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Tuesday, September 16, 2014         

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State acquires almost $18M in forgotten funds

Unclaimed property went up in the last fiscal year, compared with the previous year

By Kristen Consillio

POSTED:

The state collected $17.7 million in unclaimed property, including bank accounts, uncashed checks and stocks, last fiscal year — the highest accumulated in a decade.

The state's Unclaimed Property Program acquired nearly $1.2 million more in the fiscal year ended June 30 compared with the previous year, while paying out $5.7 million to 7,452 claimants, up from nearly $5.5 million paid to 7,681 people the year before.

The average claim since 2006, when the state launched an outreach program to encourage more people to retrieve forgotten funds, was $672.

The lowest claim, which was mailed to the office, was for 19 cents, while the highest in recent years was about $112,000, according to Scott Kami, administrator of the Financial Administration Division at the state Department of Budget and Finance.

"Some people want to make sure the government isn't holding any of their money," Kami said.

The reason for the increase in collections is due in part to outreach efforts both to companies that report the overlooked funds as well as prospective claimants, he said.

Unclaimed funds typically consist of bank accounts, stocks, uncashed business checks, safety deposit boxes and various types of insurance proceeds.

COME AND GET IT

Types of unclaimed property:

» Safety deposit boxes

» Deposits held by utility companies

» Dormant savings and checking accounts

» Insurance and medical refunds

» Shares of stock

» Uncashed traveler's checks, money orders, dividend checks, payroll checks

Source: State Department of Budget and Finance Unclaimed Property Program

MISSING SOMETHING?

How to find out whether you have unclaimed property:

In Hawaii
» Search for your name at www.ehawaii.gov/lilo/app.

» E-mail unclaimedproperty@hawaii.gov.

» Call the state unclaimed property office at 586-1589

Outside Hawaii
» Visit www.unclaimed.org or www.missingmoney.com.

"Where we see a lot of unclaimed property in part because of your tourism (industry) is going to be with the transient work force," said Valerie Jundt, president of Boston-based nonprofit Unclaimed Property Professionals Organization, which has more than 300 members that include banks, insurance companies, oil and gas firms, and retailers.

Unclaimed property scenarios include people who have multiple jobs and do not notify employers when they move; shareholders of a company that merge with another firm; or part-time residents using Hawaii as a second home who forget about bank accounts here, she said.

The company also sees high unclaimed property rates in college towns as students forget to collect deposits for utilities or cable, she added.

"Especially with all the identity theft that's been going on in recent years with technology, people don't necessarily share as openly with their personal lives, and they aren't going to be as open where they have certain accounts or have transactions that occur," Jundt said.

Makiki resident Celia Suzuki, 54, retrieved about $200 last year for herself, her parents and two siblings. While her portion was only $9.50 for uncollected dividends, Suzuki said, "every penny counts."

She even checked the state website for friends who might have forgotten funds.

"One classmate and his wife on Maui had $1,000 in savings they totally had forgotten about," Suzuki said.

If the property is not claimed, it goes to the state budget. The program pays all proven claims each year. If there is more than $1.3 million left after paying the claims, the excess goes to the general fund, a statutory requirement.

Approximately $12 million in unclaimed property was transferred to the general fund last fiscal year, up from about $10 million in fiscal 2009.

"It's one of the ways that states are supplementing their revenue," said Kim Sawyer, president and general counsel for Locator Services Group Ltd., a Boston-based firm that helps corporate clients recover unclaimed funds.

"The perspective states take is it shouldn't be a windfall to private companies that are holding onto dormant assets. Rather, citizens of states should benefit by state governments having the ability to utilize these funds until the rightful owners come forward."

Hawaii has no statute of limitations for unclaimed property and does not charge a fee to claimants, who must fill out a form with personal information, including Social Security number and explanation of ownership.

The state faces challenges at times, especially when people have common names, but said most claims are returned.

"We do get a lot of claims for John Smith," Kami said. "You could have one John Smith file a claim for all John Smiths. We need to make sure we are getting it to the right people."

Nationally, at least $32.9 billion is collectively being held by states and other agencies for 117 million accounts, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

The state program, which has nine workers, is currently focusing efforts on catching up on claims processing. It can go back 20 years to try and verify ownership through a people finder subscription website.






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