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FDIC Consumer News

Summer 2011

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Lost and Found or Safe and Sound: How to Solve Mysteries of Old Bank Accounts

Have you ever found an old bank statement, passbook, certificate of deposit or receipt for a safe deposit box and wondered if there is "lost" money or other assets waiting for you or a loved one? This is especially a common occurrence for people who serve as an executor of a deceased person's estate or as a financial caregiver for an ill or elderly friend or relative. To help you research old bank accounts and, perhaps, recover something valuable, FDIC Consumer News offers these tips.

First determine whether the bank is open (perhaps under a different name), closed or has merged with another bank. The FDIC's Bank Find, an online database that enables you to trace the history of any FDIC-insured institution, is at That Web site also has contact information for open institutions.

You can collect the assets by showing satisfactory proof of ownership. Sometimes assets transferred to a state unclaimed property office may have already been sold because there was no space left to store them. In most cases, the original owner or heirs still have the right to claim the proceeds from that sale.

And if you decide you want someone else to guide your search and assist with a claim because your case seems unusually complex, there are reputable companies that will do that for a fee. "But remember, you don't need anyone's help to make a claim, and it costs nothing," said Hodes. "Most importantly, be on guard against fraud or scams. Beware of people who demand money up-front to help you claim your property by offering services that you could perform on your own for free."

Take precautions to keep bank accounts from getting lost in the first place. Doing so can ensure that you or others won't spend countless hours on a futile search. Start by keeping good, detailed records. Be sure to update them once a year or as changes occur and include information about which accounts have been cashed, closed or transferred to another institution.

"It also helps to shred and dispose of documents for accounts that you no longer own," Hodes said. "And if you need to keep some records for tax or other purposes, clearly mark them to indicate that the account itself has been closed."

Also, make sure that the companies holding or owing you money have your current address and accurate name. If you move, write (don't just call) your banks, brokers and other holders of your assets.

Finally, if your bank fails, be mindful of any correspondence from the FDIC. "We see many examples of failed-bank customers who were notified by the FDIC of a requirement to confirm the ownership of their deposits or valuables in a safe deposit box but took no action," said David Cooley, an Associate Director of the FDIC division that handles deposit insurance claims. "Now they are having to spend extra effort and time to claim their property from their state government."