A Mound of Forgotten Money, and Even You May Have a Claim

For years, Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers, and as many as 6,914 other customers, have never claimed refunds due them from Bergdorf’s. General Motors has been in hock to Rupert Murdoch for nearly a decade. Russia’s mission to the United Nations is still hoarding unredeemed gift certificates from BJ’s Wholesale Club.
Madonna has never cashed at least two paychecks from the Walt Disney Company and Warner Music. “So much for her being called the Material Girl!” Madonna’s publicist, Liz Rosenberg, said.
These are just a few names culled from as many as 31 million owners of accounts held by New York State as unclaimed property — accounts surrendered by banks, insurers, utility companies and others that said they had tried but failed to find the rightful owners of deposits, dividend checks, back wages, rebates and other forgotten funds, which have grown to a record $13.3 billion.
More than $700 million from abandoned and dormant accounts flooded into the state in the last year alone.
The potential windfall from misplaced money stretches well beyond New York. Nationwide, states hold more than $62 billion — more than the individual general fund budget of all but California. The District of Columbia’s unclaimed property database even includes a “Barrack Obama at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”
“Is this your name?” the office’s website asks, when the search result is clicked. “Do you live or have you lived at the address listed?” “If you can answer yes,” you may be able to claim the more than $100 due you from General Electric.
In New York, where the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, returned $422 million to owners last year, the unclaimed property fund has been around since the 1940s. Five years ago it stood at $9.9 billion, and its remarkable growth is a reminder of people’s laxity (or the vicissitudes of the postal system), the redefinition of what constitutes a trifling amount of money and the fact that businesses are much more dogged in hounding deadbeats than in tracking down creditors.
After all, if they cannot find Madonna and President Obama, imagine how hard they will look for you.

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