Feeling a little sheepish could be worth the return for Hoosiers who may be embarrassed when it comes to unclaimed property.
Indiana State Attorney General Steve Carter, whose office recently launched a public awareness campaign to promote the unclaimed property Web site www.indianaunclaimed.com, told The Brazil Times that other times owners are wary of penalties and taxes.
"Sometimes people are embarrassed to know it's there," he said. "It's hard to identify exact reasons."
As the United States gradually develops a more transient society, it is more common for persons to forget about collecting old utility or rent deposits. Most unclaimed properties are $100 or less, but for those that carry a higher value, owners may be concerned about being robbed or solicited to borrow or donate funds.
While the terminology can be misleading, unclaimed property is not land or structures. According to IndianaUnclaimed, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law in 1967, which they revised in 1995, establishing that personal property and money unclaimed for a given length of time has to be turned over to the Unclaimed Property Division. When financial institutions, business associations, utility companies and legal entities have been unable to contact owners, or there has been no owner activity for a set period of time, they must turn the money or safe deposit box contents over to the state.
"It is not real estate. It is not physical property," Carter said.
Safe deposit box accounts are turned over after five years, but after the state has had an account for 25 years, it becomes the state's property and non-claimable. If the account is delivered by an Indiana Court or Indiana Clerk's office, it is held for five years, and claimants must inquire directly of the court or office to collect funds.
Types of unclaimed property include dormant bank accounts, lost or forgotten uncashed checks, stocks or bonds, dividends, bond interest, insurance proceeds, utility refunds and safe deposit box contents. Carter said about 40 percent of the property received by the state may not have complete information, like current name or address details.
"We think we've done a good job of getting property returned to people in the last four years," he said. "We processed over 20,000 claims last year."
In Vermillion, Parke, Vigo, Clay, Sullivan, Greene, Knox, Daviess and Martin counties, there were 117,518 unclaimed properties worth $17.5 million from 1998-2004. As of May 2005, the Attorney General's Office reported there is a total of more than one million properties in the state worth about $285 million. Carter said he is the only State Attorney General to handle unclaimed property. Other states handle unclaimed funds through state treasury and commerce departments. In Ohio, there are nearly 2.7 million open unclaimed funds accounts worth more than $766 million. In Illinois, there are approximately five million accounts worth about $1 billion.
While Hoosiers can search other states' on-line databases through www.indianaunclaimed.com, the Indiana database is updated by more than one thousand properties each day on average.
"It's a changing database," he said, stressing potential account owners should check the Web site regularly rather than just once or twice. "That's not good enough. A lot of people don't know they have the property. They don't know it exists. How do you know if you don't check?"
In the U.S., estimates at IndianaUnclaimed indicate states are holding more than $10 billion in unclaimed property. Banks, businesses, government agencies and other entities are believed to be holding at least $10 billion. About one in 10 U.S. residents has abandoned property, and approximately 26 million are rightful owners of unclaimed property.
"We're trying to raise the public awareness. The reason we're doing it is because there's so much money involved," Carter said. "We want people to get as much of this as possible."