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COMMENTARY | Technology is making it faster, easier and simpler for states to return unclaimed property.
Most everyone is familiar with governments collecting funds from residents through taxes, but few people are aware that state’s hold funds owed to citizens. It’s called unclaimed property and each state has an office that works to return money owed to individuals in their state. Unclaimed property could be checking or savings accounts, forgotten stocks, refunds or even security deposits.
Over the years the Nebraska State Treasurer’s office has tried several methods to return unclaimed property to the rightful owner. The most basic are the mailing of letters to owners when a property is remitted and the publishing of the names of the owners in Nebraska newspapers on an annual basis.
We’ve typically used the traditional forms of outreach (e.g. radio, newspaper, TV ads) to make the public aware of the unclaimed property program and direct them to our website to search and file for claims. These efforts can generate significant spikes in unclaimed property returned. Other traditional outreach has included attending community events like the Nebraska State Fair, county fairs, Husker Harvest Days and the Applejack Festival. However, as people have been living more of their lives online, treasury offices across the country are developing unique and efficient technology tools to return unclaimed property to their constituents, making the process faster and easier.
The Louisiana Department of Treasury held an in-person event earlier this year where they set up mobile stations for members of the public to see if they had any unclaimed funds in real time and receive in-person assistance with the claim. One in six people living in Louisiana are believed to have unclaimed property due to them. Being able to use a mobile unit and conduct in-person outreach, the office brought that opportunity into the community and reached people who may have been unaware or unable to access online resources.
Not only are technology advances allowing offices to go out into the community, they’re also enabling a smoother process in returning funds to the rightful owners. Illinois has been on the forefront of technology advances. One program the state is using called Money Match allows them to compare unclaimed property data with other state data to verify identity and, once confirmed, mail checks up to $2,000. No claim is necessary to start the process. Launched in 2018, more than 150,000 claims have been paid with an approximate value of over $16 million. Money Match has been so successful the limit was raised to $5,000 by the Illinois legislature this past year.
Maine has turned to a similar program, specifically using information from Covid-19 relief funds that the state is sending to constituents. The unclaimed property office confirms the correct recipient and address by checking to see if their Covid relief funds were deposited. If that person is also due unclaimed property, a check is automatically sent to the same address if the value is under $1,500. This is a way for offices to provide for residents who may be in need without them having to act.
While most states are required to list unclaimed funds available in local newspapers, Wisconsin is going further by advertising unclaimed funds on television. Wisconsin is leveraging an option called OTT, or ‘Over the Top’, to run ads on streaming services, such as YouTube TV and Roku. Those ads also can be used on social media platforms. Just another way of unclaimed property offices meeting constituents where they are.
All over the country, state offices are embracing technology advances to return unclaimed property to proper owners. These technologies provide states with proactive and targeted outreach tools. Ultimately, technology has allowed us to make the processing of unclaimed property claims simpler, faster and easier for residents.
Treasurer John Murante is the 44th and current Nebraska state treasurer. He is also the senior vice president of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
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