The state’s most-recent unclaimed property list for Surry County, made available by Rep. Sarah Stevens, contains amounts ranging from $24,371 to $1.15 owed to thousands of local citizens, businesses and organizations.
And thanks to the continuation of a pilot project launched in 2011, a county government office is working to reunite that cash with rightful owners who aren’t even aware it exists.
“We’ve probably assisted with the filing of claims for about $150,000,” Surry Finance Officer Betty Taylor said Wednesday of the program that began last February.
Unclaimed property can consist of bank accounts, wages, utility deposits, insurance policy proceeds, stocks, bonds and contents of safe deposit boxes that have been abandoned. For one reason or another, no transactions or contacts have been made with the rightful owners of those proceeds, either because they have moved or for a variety of other reasons.
Financial institutions, insurance companies, public agencies and businesses are legally required to turn over unclaimed property to the state if there has been no contact with the owners for a certain time. While they are held, interest earned on those assets is used to provide grants and low-interest loans to worthy students in need.
The list is administered by the N.C. Department of the State Treasurer.
“They update it periodically,” said Stevens, a member of the N.C. General Assembly who lives in Mount Airy. Her office has assisted in getting cash to those listed, along with the program operated by volunteers at the county finance office.
“We have put lots of money in lots of people’s hands,” Stevens added.
A Westfield man owed $24,371 is at the top of the latest unclaimed property list compiled by Stevens, which also includes seven other individuals, a Mount Airy trucking company and an automotive dealership in the city among the top 10 in terms of amounts. The report shows sums due them of at least $2,773 each.
Surry is “the only county that I know of” that has a program specifically designed to help get the unclaimed assets to their owners, said Taylor, the finance officer.
The county board of commissioners saw the need for the free service and took steps to make it happen, Taylor said. “The board allowed us to do this as a pilot project and they’ve allowed us to continue,” she said, adding that the commissioners deserve much credit for this.
Since the unclaimed property function is not part of the official mission of the county finance office, it relies on volunteers to help citizens secure cash that is owed them.
Six people are involved now, Taylor said Wednesday. “We have room for more volunteers.”
The volunteers try to contact people on the list through various means. “Sometimes it’s a matter of looking them up in the phone book” and making one call, Taylor said. “And sometimes it might take a month to find them.”
Exhaustive searches can be involved which require much “Googling,” the finance officer said of one online mechanism used. “Sometimes it takes a lot of Internet research.”
Most of the volunteers consider the task a challenge and achieve a certain satisfaction in tracking recipients down, Taylor said. “They’ve chased people all over the country.”
Some who are contacted are skeptical. “They think it’s a scam,” Taylor said.
Pointing out that there are entities which get unclaimed money into the hands of recipients for a fee, she said the county service “is free and we don’t charge.”
Tracking down those owed money is just part of the process. A would-be recipient then must submit appropriate paperwork to get the cash.
“The volunteers will actually help them file those claims,” the finance officer said. “It is sometimes overwhelming.” In some instances, including when people have moved, proof must be provided to the state — such as documentation that they once resided at a previous address — before the treasurer’s office will release the money.
“We’ve notified a lot of people that have filed their own claims,” Taylor said. While the county volunteers have been directly responsible for some $150,000 being claimed, the number is in the $300,000 range counting all those they have contacted to inform them that the funds exist.
Documenting rightful ownership can be tricky, with finding proof of old addresses the most-difficult part, Taylor said. Complications also sometimes arise if a deceased person is involved and the money is to go to that person’s estate, which requires working through its executor or administrator and filing materials such as death certificates.
And those who are getting money shouldn’t expect to receive it right away. “It takes about 90 days,” Taylor said of the process.
In some cases in which relatively small sums are owed, the owners don’t consider it worth the time and trouble to claim the money.
But others have been extremely grateful to get unexpected funds just in time to make a rent or car payment, Taylor said. “It’s certainly putting money in people’s pockets.”
Along with assistance in filing claims, anyone wanting to know if they have unclaimed money can call 401-8211, a special number set up for the pilot project. If no volunteers are working, a caller can leave a message and someone will respond soon, Taylor said.
The public also can visit the website www.nctreasurer.com, click on the Unclaimed Property link and type in a name to determine if money is owed.
Meanwhile, having additional volunteers would enable the local service to be offered at more times. Taylor is unsure of the total hours now devoted by volunteers each week, since some work on their home computers and then make calls from the county office.
Along with minimal computer skills, a desire to assist others is helpful.
“They can choose their hours,” Taylor said.
Read more: Mount Airy News - Latest unclaimed property list contains large sums