SPECIAL REPORT: Unclaimed Property

SPECIAL REPORT: Unclaimed Property

(WTVM) - If you're familiar with the phrase "found money," you know that it means discovering cash you weren't really expecting.

It may be a refund you forgot or a check in a birthday card you failed to open.

Guess what? We all may have some "unclaimed money" waiting at the state capital of all places.

News Leader 9's Chuck Leonard is here with a special report on how to find it.

Ever dreamed about finding a hidden treasure? Sure you have. It happens in the movies, why not in real life? Well, a treasure chest could be waiting for you in Atlanta or Montgomery through the magic of unclaimed property.

"It gives us great pleasure to reunite people with their own money," said Alabama Treasurer Young Boozer about the state's Unclaimed Property Division, which is devoted to returning items to their rightful owner.

If you have property coming your way in Alabama, chances are it's in this vault at the treasury department. Millions of dollars' worth of unclaimed property, and Chad Wright is in charge of it all.

"What happens when somebody calls and says, I think I'm on the list? You know, it's interesting because more times than not, even when they call they tell us I know I'm not on the list," said Wright, Director of Unclaimed Property. "Usually if that person is not on the list you don't have to look very far. You know, we check...well, check my husband, check my wife, check my mother, my sister, daughter, somebody will usually end up with something. Now, it's not always $100,000, but a $50 refund that you didn't know about is money, still money these days."

Of course, calling isn't the easiest way to find out if you have unclaimed property. At the end of this report, we'll show you the best way to check with both Alabama and Georgia.

Speaking of which, Alabama has that huge vault that looks like a bank. It's a different story in Georgia. Everything is behind these closed doors.

"Our administrative division has to open the exterior doors, and then we have to have two people from the unclaimed property division open our interior doors," said William Gaston with the Georgia Department of Revenue. "And those two can't be on a flight at the same time. Is that kinda how that works?"

Why is that?

"Well, it's for security and dual control," said Steve Harbin with the Georgia Department of Revenue. "The fact that one person can't have access to the vault. We even had to sign in once we made it through those doors."

The vault itself is a little underwhelming.

"I always equate it to the Disney movie 'Aladdin,'" said Elizabeth Okunowo, the Unclaimed Property Compliance Manager with the Georgia Department of Revenue. "People think we've just got piles of gold coins and we're rolling around in jewels, and for the most part it's just a warehouse with boxes in it."

Okunowo showed us a few items left behind in safe deposit boxes.

"We've tried, on some of these items that are really interesting and exciting that we know somebody in the family wants, the original owner may have been passed away because we've had this for a while," Okunowo said. "But our goal, especially on the exciting things, really on the boring things too, our goal is to get everybody back their original property."

Same for the treasury department in Alabama, and sometimes the payout is huge.

"In the past couple of years we've had two in particular, one of them it was returned to a business, which is a little unusual, but we did return one that was a little over a million dollars," said Wright. "Then a couple of months ago we had one that was part of an estate that. You know, the family didn't know the money had been turned over from one of the family members that had passed away. It was a claim, a little over $900,000."

"We just had that recently and for one, on one check that we wrote it was $1.8 million," said Okunowo.

Here's how to check to see if you have any unclaimed property. If you live in Alabama, you'll want to type in your computer, "Unclaimed Property Alabama," and you will get this website. The treasury department will find your property for free, but other websites will charge you a fee.

In Georgia, it's pretty much the same thing. You type in "Unclaimed Property Georgia," and you'll get this website.

You may have some big money waiting on you. Happy hunting.

Both states recommend that you search not only your name, but those of family members and friends.

Who knows? There could be a reward in it.

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