With $3B in unclaimed funds on hand, why doesn’t Ohio reach out to those owed money directly?

Clark County Clerk of Court has about $20,000 in unclaimed funds from 2018 court business.
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Clark County Clerk of Court has about $20,000 in unclaimed funds from 2018 court business.

Someone in the Southwest Ohio area has $411,000 sitting, waiting for them to come get it from a state bank account.

The money is among the $3 billion Ohioans are collectively owed through a program that holds money from things like rent or utility deposits, uncashed checks, uncashed insurance policies, or old bank accounts until the person claims it.

The Ohio Department of Commerce, which administers the program, urges people to visit www.missingmoney.com to see if they are among those owed funds. The agency recently warned people to be on the lookout for scammers trying to overcharge claimants for getting ahold of their own money or property.

But other states are increasingly reaching out to people proactively to inform them they are owed money, instead of waiting for people to search the website or be contacted by a “finder” who in Ohio can legally charge up to 10% of the amount — or a scammer who might charge more.

The state of New York for years has mailed out letters letting people know within three months of unclaimed funds bring reported that they are owed money.

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Last year they sent out 118,000 letters, resulting in $10.7 million in returned funds, according to New York’s comptroller’s office, which oversees the program. These mailing have led to the return of $45 million in the past three years.

“We want to get these accounts turned around as soon as possible and find these owners,” said program director Lawrence Schantz. He said the cost of the effort is “not prohibitive.”

He said finders in New York can charge people up to 15% of the amount owed.

“We’re trying to get out there before the finders and locate these folks before the finders find them,” he said.

Ohio Commerce officials say they have done targeted outreach in the past. Those efforts were targeted to property owners with high dollar returns — typically $10,000 and up — to best manage resources, they say.

They also advertise in all 88 counties, including listing names and addresses of local people owed funds in the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun and Journal-News in September.

“The division is always considering new and creative ways to reach property owners and educate Ohioans on the purpose and mission of the Ohio Division of Unclaimed Funds,” said Ohio Department of Commerce spokeswoman Jennifer Jarrell.

The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators lists other ways other states reach out to people:

  • Nevada and Missouri use unemployment insurance records to locate owners of unclaimed property.
  • Maine used property tax records to return 310,000 payments in early 2020.
  • Delaware uses tax filings and mailed about 19,000 checks, totaling more than $3 million, to Delaware taxpayers without requiring a claim or other documentation.

Ohio officials do gather ideas from other states, Jarrell said.

“State and federal laws, as well as the safe and secure management of information, must always be appreciated whenever we are considering the sharing of information for the purposes of reconnecting Ohioans with their lost and forgotten funds,” she said. “However, the division has definitely considered ways to utilize citizen information and technology to efficiently and effectively return unclaimed funds to their rightful owners.”

In addition to advertising the program and directing people to the website, Ohio also licenses finders who can obtain information from the unclaimed property database and reach out to people themselves offering to help them access the money.

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“The best thing you can do if you get a call from a finder is to ask for their registration number, and call the Division of Unclaimed Funds directly,” said Akil Hardy, superintendent of the Ohio Division of Unclaimed Funds. “We have a list of nearly 40 finders who are registered with the state and can assist with recovery if needed.”

People can also claim their own money for free. If you search your name at www.missingmoney.com, it will show someone owed money a rough dollar amount (like more or less than $100) and the person’s last known address. If it matches your name and current or previous address, you can submit documents to claim the funds.

“The best way to avoid becoming a target (of fraudsters) is to check and see if you have any money in your name, and if so, claim it,” said Hardy.

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