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FDIC Consumer News - Summer 2018
25th Anniversary Edition

[1996] Tips for Finding Lost or Forgotten Money

Excerpted and updated from “Hidden Assets: Out of Sight…Out of Mind…Out of Luck?” Fall 1996.

All sorts of property gets abandoned. At banks, the list includes checking and savings accounts as well as valuables in safe deposit boxes. How can you “lose” these assets in the first place? You could have moved, not given a forwarding address and forgotten about the money. You could have changed your name and not notified your banks and other companies. You may be unaware of the money entirely — perhaps because it was given to you as a child or you inherited it — and now the people who have it for you can’t find you.

The rules governing unclaimed bank accounts vary from state to state. In general, after several years without activity — you’ve made no deposits or withdrawals, you haven’t cashed a check — and after efforts to reach you fail, the property will be considered abandoned and will “escheat” (a fancy legal term for being transferred) to the state government of your last known address. The state becomes the custodian of the property on behalf of the owner. Even if the state can’t locate you and it sells your property, you still have the right to come forward at any time to claim its value. How can you uncover and recover your forgotten funds?

Search for unclaimed money the government might have for you. Start by visiting and linking to the unclaimed property offices in the states where you or your benefactors have lived or conducted business. That same webpage also has links to unclaimed funds held by the federal government, including the FDIC. These assets at federal agencies include uncashed tax refunds, U.S. Savings Bonds and Treasury securities, Social Security benefits and veterans’ benefits. The FDIC occasionally winds up with temporary possession of deposits and contents of safe deposit boxes left in failed banks and savings institutions. The FDIC may still have possession of the asset or may have transferred it to an assuming bank or to the state.

Contact financial institutions, former employers, landlords, utilities and other people you suspect still owe you money. If you can’t locate a company on your own, search online or ask at the library to check a business directory. If it’s a bank you’re looking for, the FDIC’s BankFind database keeps a status report for every insured bank going back to 1933. This information will show, for example, if the bank was bought by another bank, changed names or locations, or closed.

Be on guard against fraud. Many excellent “tracer” companies, for a fee based on actual recoveries, will help people who don’t want to take the time to research unclaimed property or whose cases may be unusually complex. But a con artist might contact you about “inside information” regarding assets due to you. This person probably will demand money upfront for help reclaiming your property. In reality, this person probably only has the same list of unclaimed property available to everyone, for free. Think carefully before paying anything upfront.