At a bimonthly meeting with the governor and other state Cabinet members, Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced that the Department of Financial Services’ Bureau of Unclaimed Property is holding over $970 million in cash and property belonging to Floridians. Money that remains unclaimed benefits Florida schools.
Gallagher urged to Floridians to search the state’s online database of unclaimed property at www.fltreasurehunt.org to find out if the department is holding cash or property belonging to them. Floridians may also call 1-88-VALUABLE.
“Floridians could be a mouse click or a phone call away from lost treasure,” said Gallagher.
The department returned nearly $50 million in the last six months, which is a 17 percent increase over the same period in 2002. Most of the property comes from dormant accounts in financial institutions, deposits paid to utility companies, insurance premium refunds, safe deposit boxes and trust holdings. In addition to cash and securities, the state’s holdings include property such as watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items.
The Department of Financial Services began administering the program in 2003, following the merger of the departments of Insurance and Banking & Finance. To help locate owners of unclaimed property, the department conducts credit bureau searches and driver’s license searches, participates in state fairs and other community events, and advertises on radio and television. The department has also reached out to local school superintendents to assist them in claiming property.
Recently, one Floridian was reportedly reunited with his lost belongings after three years of searching. The man, who traveled from the Tampa Bay area to collect his property, was dismayed to find out that after his bank was sold and his local branch office was demolished, more than $50,000 worth of family heirlooms were lost in the shuffle. Finally, after his unclaimed safe deposit boxes were transferred to the state, his property, which included a 15 ct. diamond bracelet and more than 200 gold coins, was returned to him when department employees identified him as the owner.
“This gentleman was lucky. Every year 98 percent of abandoned or lost safe deposit box items go unclaimed,” said Gallagher. “And there are millions more in cash receipts waiting to be claimed by Floridians.”
In another success story, more than $160,000 was paid to the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in June. The money was discovered through the Department of Financial Services’ Unclaimed Property program as having been held in trust for the school since 1995. The school, located in St. Augustine, is a state-funded public boarding school for eligible hearing-impaired and visually-impaired students, pre-school through 12th grade.
Unclaimed property held by the state is deposited into the state School Trust Fund until it is claimed by its rightful owner. Items from abandoned safe deposit boxes are auctioned annually, but the proceeds are always available for the owners to collect.
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