OLYMPIA – Odds are that you or someone you know has money waiting at the state Department of Revenue, just a few computer key strokes away.
The department’s main job is taking in money from Washington residents and businesses. But every so often, it reminds people of its efforts to send money out. Its unclaimed property program has some $1 billion in cash, securities and other things waiting for rightful owners to step up, fill out the proper forms and get what’s coming.
That might be a rebate check for a few bucks that never found its way to your mailbox. But it could be much, much bigger, like some $2.2 million in stocks and unclaimed dividend checks a Puget Sound resident was able to claim in the last year. Erin Lopez, the unclaimed property operations manager, said the man’s parents apparently bought the stocks when he was a child but the securities firm lost track of them when they moved and dividend checks started getting returned. Eventually everything went to the state for safekeeping under a law passed in 1956 that requires the state to hold assets forever in a person’s name.
The state has a “finder” that helps track down the owners of large assets like that, but for most unclaimed property, there’s the website, which also has links to the steps to claim the property.
Some assets the state has been holding for almost as long as the law has been in place, waiting for the owner or the owner’s heirs, to claim them. Chances of reconnecting owner with asset diminish over time. But when department personnel were plugging the program on a Seattle radio station last week by plugging callers’ names into its online database, it connected one caller to property the state had been holding since 1983.
Between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, the department reunited about 170,800 people with more than $68 million in property. During that same time, however, it added 858,000 names and $140 million in unclaimed property to its database.
One of the main reasons is bad addresses or no addresses, Lopez said. As an example, a company might send a check to 25th Street when the person lives on 24th Street or 25th Avenue; a digit is dropped or transposed; or it’s sent to someone who moved and left no forwarding address.
Utility deposits are a common item, Kim Schmanke, department spokeswoman, said. People move from a house after years or even decades and forgot they put down a deposit to get the power turned on when they moved in. If the utility company can’t find its old customer, it can’t keep the money and eventually turns it over to the state.
The state also receives the contents of safe deposit boxes that are abandoned at banks. Some contain valuable items like stocks, bonds, property deeds and coins. The state once received Rosalynn Sumners’ silver Olympic medal, tracked her down and got it back to her.
Others contain what Lopez called “interesting things” that the owner might not have wanted others to see. She was reluctant to go into much detail except to say there have been photos of people in compromising positions. One box had a ski mask and a gun.
“We no longer accept firearms,” she added. Later this year the state will hold its once-every-three-years auction to dispose of some deposit box items.
Businesses also can have unclaimed property in the database, so a worker who doesn’t find anything for himself in the database might want to alert the boss about a forgotten refund check or misplaced premium payment. Probably won’t be worth a raise, but it could lead to better marks on the next job review under the category “Takes care of company property.”
If there’s nothing in the Washington database, it’s possible to check each of the other 50 states online.
It’s also possible to check whether well-known people or public officials have money they could claim. Gov. Jay Inslee doesn’t show up in the lists, but U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell seems to have a small rebate from AAA she could claim. Spokane County Commissioner Al French, Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and state Sen. Mike Padden might want to check the database. Initiative promoter Tim Eyman, who regularly comes up with ideas on how to limit money coming into the state, appears eligible to get some back.