Unclaimed property

ANDERSON — In an age of electronic banking where most consumers have the ability to keep track of nearly anything with a few swipes across their smartphone screens, it seems hard to believe that the state of Indiana currently holds property and funds worth more than $530 million that are considered unclaimed.

“People are usually pretty surprised” to hear the number, says Amy Hendrix, the director of Indiana’s Unclaimed Property Division.

The state’s inventory of unclaimed funds is mostly money — in one form or another, Hendrix says.

“Unclaimed property is a confusing term to many people,” she said. “It’s money, with the exception of safe deposit boxes that come to us from banks. Rarely are we giving back physical, tangible items.”

For example, when a tenant moves out of an apartment but forgets to collect his refundable security deposit, the landlord becomes responsible for holding the money and reporting it to the Unclaimed Property Division. Holders must report twice a year — in May and November — on the money they’re holding for people. Dollar amounts can range from pennies on a consumer rebate to thousands of dollars in an inheritance.

The state’s efforts to reunite missing property with its rightful owners is extensive and, in some ways, unique. Indiana is believed to be the only state that tracks unclaimed property through the state’s attorney general’s office.

“With most states, it’s under the treasury department,” Hendrix said. “I do know that we consider unclaimed property under consumer protection, which is under the purview of the attorney general’s office.”

Hendrix says her staff travels around the state extensively in efforts to provide consumers with details on how to access and search the vast database to see if they might find something. Last year, representatives from the Unclaimed Property Division visited all 92 Indiana counties, which helped spur claim payouts amounting to more than $36 million.

The system, which some legislators admit could be more user-friendly, nonetheless sees more than 200 active claims a day.

“Some companies may not understand the unclaimed property laws,” Hendrix said. “We’ve done a good job reaching out to people, and as a result we’ve received more money into the state, so as a result we have more money to return to the owners.”

So far this year, the state has returned more than $47 million in unclaimed property to Hoosiers, including more than 710,000 claims of more than $100.

There has been discussion on what the state should do with funds that go unclaimed over the long term. Currently, the Unclaimed Property Division holds property for 25 years, and then it becomes the property of the state, with the money going into the state’s general fund. Legislators representing Madison County favor eventually returning the money to taxpayers.

“What would probably be a better solution is returning it if it reached a certain threshold,” said state Rep. Melanie Wright, D-Yorktown. “That’s just money that could be going back into Hoosier hands and needs to go back into Hoosier hands.”

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.

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