Government, Businesses Overlook Lost Money

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- It may not be enough to balance the budget, but if government officials are serious about capturing revenue, they can try just looking under their nose.

State by state, government agencies have thousands upon thousands of unclaimed money accounts -- checks that were never cashed, payments lost in the mail and settlements never claimed.
The government and even corporations such as Wal-Mart are leaving 'missing money' unclaimed.

The same holds true for corporations who, despite their laser beam focus on the bottom line, have potentially million drifting in limbo.

Recently, we looked at the resources Americans can use to find missing money, in whatever form, that they may have forgotten about or never knew they had.

In accordance with state and federal laws, assets deemed unclaimed or abandoned after a set period are held in trust by states. Laws vary, but after a set amount of time these assets are seized.

While it may be understandable that an individual loses track of that savings account from Aunt Gladys, it is harder to swallow that government and big business alike aren't reclaiming money that can easily be found and reclaimed by visiting a few websites.

Mary Pitman, author of The Little Book of Missing Money: A Quick and Easy Guide to Finding Money that is Rightfully Yours, says her hobby and avocation had always been to seek out missing money for individuals. On a lark, she wondered what would happen if she looked up her bank, Wachovia ( WB).

"I was blown away by the number of listings," she says of the hundreds she found. "It never crossed my mind that businesses would be there."

"I don't think people realize how it impacts them when it involves corporations," she adds, offering that the unclaimed money would be put to good use creating jobs and making good on shareholder responsibilities.

Pitman turned her attention to the government. What she founds was "every single branch of government" had unclaimed money held by states. Among them: the IRS, Social Security, the Veterans Administration, Homeland Security, the FBI and CIA.

"My favorite is the U.S. Mint," she says. "I find it humorous that the people who make money don't know they are missing money."

The government debt crisis -- which included a showdown in Congress and a subsequent rating downgrade by Standard & Poors -- makes the seemingly lackadaisical oversight of money all the more galling, she says.

The amounts may typically be small, but "doesn't every penny count?" Pitman asks. "If you are saying we may not be able to send out Social Security checks, don't thousands of listings on the unclaimed property sites count for something? It transcends administrations, so it is not a Democrat or Republican thing. Everybody's hands are dirty."

Each state maintains its own database of unclaimed money and most allow online searches.

Among the free resources people, companies and even government agencies can search are the site www.missingmoney.com (most, but not all, states share their data). Most states also have their own, searchable database, among them Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and California.

Searches can get confusing due to how information is entered. A company or agency name may be misspelled, for example, or need to be entered as a first or last name. Wal-Mart ( WMT) is listed in many state databases by that spelling as well as by "Walmart," and the listings for individual store locations and departments (pharmacy, optical) also appear.

Tracing bank assets in an age of mergers and insolvency can require you to suss out their "family tree" by visiting www.ffiec.gov.

A simple check of these databases yielded hundreds of government agencies and business with money waiting to be claimed.

A search for the IRS finds hundreds of listings, many of them tax payments that somehow were never delivered or accounted for. In California, the IRS has $4,000 owed to it that Bank of America ( BAC) somehow never got in their hands.

Gone but not forgotten: Washington Mutual has 2,923 instances of unclaimed money in just California; the defunct Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual have assets spread throughout the country; and so do liquidated retailers such as Circuit City and Linens 'n Things.

Despite the fact the address of Apple's ( AAPL) Cupertino headquarters is legendary among its tech-savvy fan base -- 1 Infinite Loop -- various checks and payments still have had a hard time making it to the company's mailbox.

Checking in with California's State Controller's Office finds dozens of instances where Apple has left unclaimed money on the table in its home state, including an $8,127 "vendor check" from Cal State, a $2,121 vendor payment from the State of Minnesota and a $1,224 refund from Dun & Bradstreet, a firm that advises businesses on credit issues.

Also in the mix is a $227 rebate from Verizon ( VZ), an apparently forgotten $1,188 Washington Mutual checking account, a $9.15 treasurer's check from Snohomish County in Washington and a $3.57 outstanding check from affiliate marketing firm LinkShare, itemized as "Apple Tracking Yahoo! ( YHOO)."

CEO Steve Jobs has several small payments of his own from Great West life & Annuity Insurance he's yet to collect and that are now held by the state while awaiting a claim. Jobs might also collect some extra pocket change if his iPhone had an app to track dividend payments -- he has 64 cents unclaimed from Time Warner ( TWX) and $4.11 from radio giant Citadel Broadcasting ( CDL). No explanation is offered in the online database, but IBM ( IBM) had been unsuccessful in either delivering, or getting him to cash, a check for $14.30.

Other top business leaders have also let dollars and cents slip through their fingers. Internet billionaire Peter Thiel -- a founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook -- has $62.70 in "abandoned" PG&E ( PCG) securities listed. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg might want to ask his one-time financier for a heads-up about the $308.62 PayPal has turned over to the state as seemingly abandoned property.

Google ( GOOG) co-founder Sergey Brin has several uncollected "group policy benefits/ claims" from Connecticut General Life Insurance, most in the range of $200. There are also unclaimed payments, listed as "salaries/wages" from Stanford University -- two in the amount of $160.50, the other for $381.99. Brin also has a $9.53 dividend check issued by the New York Times Co. ( NYT) awaiting reclamation.

Google itself has left thousands of dollars in limbo, including $498 from Carlson Wagonlit Travel, $668.50 from American Express ( AXP) and $29,201 missing in action from IT firm Insight North America.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont.

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