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You could be missing out on unclaimed funds. Here's how to check if you're owed money

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Ohio is sitting on $3.6 billion belonging to Ohioans who likely don't know they're missing it. The Ohio Department of Commerce’s Division of Unclaimed Funds is tasked with helping people recoup that money.

Superintendent Akil Hardy estimates one in 10 Americans have an unclaimed fund, and nearly one in three visitors this year that came by the department's Ohio State Fair booth found missing money. That totals nearly $400,000 to more than 800 claimants over just 12 days.

What is 'missing money?'

"Often we hear people say, 'There's no way I have any funds that's lost or forgotten. I know where all my money is.' " Hardy says. "And most people do, but a lot of people don't realize just the types of accounts and money that get turned over to us."

Unclaimed funds can come from lots of sources: security deposits, a check from a former employer, forgotten bank savings accounts, utility deposits, stocks, bonds, securities, or even safe deposit box items. Perhaps a family member died and part of their estate should now go to you as an heir.

If a company can't return the funds to the proper person for some reason, state law requires it be turned over to the state's Division of Unclaimed Funds which will hold the funds until they're rightfully claimed.

Show me the money!

Determining if you're owed money is easy. The division's website offers four steps for finding and claiming funds. Simply search for your name on MissingMoney.com — you'll find the link on the state's website. You can search just in Ohio, or nationwide if you've lived elsewhere.

If you find your name, simply click the "claim" button to begin the process. You'll download a claim form, fill it out, and send it in electronically.

"The site will prompt you to enter your contact information," explains Hardy. "You can generate a claim from there, along with instructions in terms of what's necessary to claim those funds, which is typically just a copy of your license and social security card — at least in most cases, that's all that's needed. You send that to us and we'll review it, and if everything checks out, we'll pay it."

The process is similar if you have funds in other states. You'll just need to go through that state's unclaimed funds office. If you're claiming funds for a deceased person, you may need extra documentation such as a probate document showing you're the administrator or executor of the estate.

In the past, Hardy notes, people had to send the documentation and forms by mail. Now, the process can be completed online. Not online? You can also start the process by calling 614-466-4433.

Sounds cool, but is it worth the hassle?

"It's absolutely worth it," exclaims Hardy. "The average amount paid out to a claimant is $775. The most that we paid out to an individual was nearly $2 million."

At the Ohio State Fair, one Ohioan discovered more than $71,000 in unclaimed funds. Another couple uncovered $1,400 in a forgotten checking account.

Hardy says once a claim is approved, the department usually pays out within in seven to 10 days.

"By law, we're required to review a claim within 120 days. Typically, it's much less than that — maybe a couple of months. It also very much depends on whether or not the claimant has provided all the documentation at the time that they're submitting their claim," Hardy elaborates. "(If) they don't, then there'll be a little bit of back-and-forth. One thing they can count on is that if they don't have all the documentation, we will reach out either by mail, email or phone to contact them, let them know what's still outstanding or pending, so that we can get that claim processed."

Wait, did you say 'safe deposit boxes?'

Yup. The Division of Unclaimed Funds returns money and objects. While there are some limitations on what the agency can take in, Hardy says they've seen some usual — and unusual — items.

"Typically we see stamps, we see coin collections. Those are probably the majority of the items that we see out of safe deposit box items. You might see certificates for bonds. There's only certain types of things that we're allowed to to take by law, so it's like precious metals, things like that. But we've seen some interesting things come in.

"One time, we opened the box and saw gold teeth. I didn't expect to see that when we were opening the box," he laughs.

I'm in. How often should I check the website?

In Ohio, businesses are required to report unclaimed funds annually. Hardy says the deadline for this year is coming up in November. Therefore, he recommends checking the website several times each year "because while you may not find something today, there's a good chance that there will be funds turned over maybe next year or the year after."

A few more questions

After this story first published, WVXU received additional questions about the program. We put these questions to Superintendent Akil Hardy by email and the following are his responses.

WVXU: Why does the state not actively send checks to the people who are owed the money? In at least some cases the state has the contact information for, or could clearly find the person, to whom they belong.

HARDY: "The Ohio Division of Unclaimed Funds is always looking for new and effective ways to return funds to Ohioans. We regularly engage with the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) to share knowledge and experience with other states.

"Currently, the division uses a variety of resources in an attempt to locate valid claimant contact information. When valid information is located, a member of our staff contacts the claimant to advise them of their funds and educate them on how to begin the claims process.

"The Division continues to investigate the distribution approach you mentioned; however, this method would likely require laws to be amended, as they have been in other states, to allow for appropriate data sharing."

WVXU: Does the state post all funds, including those under $50? If not, why?

HARDY: "I believe you are referring to making the funds searchable on MissingMoney.com. There is no minimum amount for what is available to search on the website. This has not always been the case. There used to be a threshold. I believe this was because per Ohio Revised Code 169.03 (A)(3), businesses with funds under $50 can report the funds in aggregate, and there would be little owner information provided, such as name, address, SSN, etc."

WVXU: How much money is Ohio making on the interest of the funds it holds? Where does that money go?

HARDY: "Ohio does not make any money on the interest. All interest accrued on unclaimed funds is interest that goes back to the claimant. Thus, the claimant will receive a check for their principal unclaimed property plus interest."

Copyright 2022 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.