News Reports Highlight Success of Unclaimed Property Program
CONTACT: Tami Torres or Nina Banister
Gallagher has returned nearly $300 million in property since 2003
TALLAHASSEE—When people find a lost treasure, it makes for a good story. And in Florida there have been a lot of good stories lately.
This Sunday at 7 p.m., the Telemundo Network is scheduled to broadcast a 7-minute report on the Department of Financial Services' Bureau of Unclaimed Property on Sin Fronteras. The program airs nationally, as well as in Puerto Rico, Mexico, South and Central America. South Florida's WTVJ is currently airing a four-part series on the unclaimed property program.
Since 2003, Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the department, has returned nearly $300 million in cash and property to current or former Floridians -- about one-third of all of the cash and property returned since the program's inception in 1961.
"It is our mission to find the owners or heirs and return this property to them," Gallagher said. "In many of these cases, we are returning money or property to people who really need it. It comes at a time that makes a real financial difference for them."
The bureau is currently holding accounts valued at more than $1 billion, and the owners or heirs can claim it for free by logging on to www.fltreasurehunt.org or by calling 1-88-VALUABLE (1-888-258-2253.) News reports like those by Telemundo, WTVJ and Dateline NBC in 2004 – as well as the many newspaper articles written over the years – help inform Floridians about the Bureau of Unclaimed Property. During this month's series by WTVJ, there has been a 100-percent increase in the number of phone calls and hits on the Florida Treasure Hunt web page.
Most of the property comes from dormant accounts in financial institutions, deposits paid to utility companies, insurance premium refunds, un-cashed payroll checks and trust holdings. In addition to cash and securities, the state's holdings include property such as watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items that are delivered from abandoned safe deposit boxes.
Unclaimed cash held by the state is deposited into the State School Trust Fund until it is claimed by the rightful owner. Unclaimed items from abandoned safe deposit boxes are auctioned annually, and the proceeds always remain available for the owners to collect.
Last year's unclaimed property auction yielded more than $570,000 to benefit public education. In the 45 years since the program began, the state's schools have benefited from more than $1.25 billion in transfers – including nearly $300 million in the last three years that Gallagher has overseen the program.
On the Telemundo report Sunday, viewers will see how the department teamed up with the Network to set up a booth in a south Florida mall so that shoppers could stop and see if the state is holding property for them. The first visitor to the booth had property, as did numerous others who visited the booth throughout the day.
In the WTVJ series, Gallagher was shown delivering a check for more than $43,000 to a former Miami-Dade public school teacher who had lost track of earnings on a retirement account.
"In the fast pace of modern life, it is easy to forget to collect a last paycheck, close a bank account, or get a utility deposit back," Gallagher said. "But we've made it just as easy to find it. With the click of the mouse or a phone call you might find lost treasure."
Some of the unclaimed property the state is holding is very valuable. As a result, numerous "heir finder" companies offer to help consumers claim their property for a percentage of the value. But in Florida, Gallagher points out, it is easy and free for consumers to claim their property on their own, and most claims are processed in less than 90 days.
Gallagher urges Floridians to regularly visit www.fltreasurehunt.org to check for unclaimed property the state may be holding for them. He also offers these suggestions for avoiding losing track of property in the first place:
• If you move often or expect to move again, keep a record of utility or rent deposits.
• Follow up if you are due a last paycheck.
• Keep up with safe deposit boxes and bank accounts. Don't assume that if you move the bank will hold on to it for you indefinitely – they won't, especially if you fail to pay required fees.
• Make sure your bank has your current address.
• Closely read bank statements and correspondence. Banks can merge or be sold and your cash and property could get lost in the shuffle.
• Make sure you have a will so someone will know what to do with your accounts or the contents of your safe deposit box.
For more information about the Bureau of Unclaimed Property, log on to www.fltreasurehunt.org and click on Frequently Asked Questions.