Fortune Hunting for Unclaimed Property

By: John Harrington
By: John Harrington

The giant door opens on the state of Florida's unclaimed property vault and reveals a treasure trove of items.

"It comes from abandoned safety deposit boxes in the state of Florida."

An opal and diamond ring, says the vault supervisor, Thomas Egler.

Among the items are an old Smith and Wesson gun dating back to 1874, an autographed picture of Babe Ruth, and a lot of jewelry. Boxes and boxes of things people forgot they had or didn't realize had become custody of the state.

"If you have a safety deposit box in Florida and don't pay your rent, it gets escheated to the state after three years, says Egler.

Thomas Egler is the vault supervisor for the Florida Department of Financial Services Bureau of Unclaimed Property and says, "The owner of the safety deposit box may pass away, not leaving a forwarding address or next of kin.”

And he says a person may abandon a checking or savings account or stock dividends. Currently the bureau is holding unclaimed accounts valued at more than one billion dollars, last year alone taking in more than 200 million.

"It never ends. Every August we get a lot of new packages," says Bob Bass, who is an independent appraiser.

Bob pours over all the items that come in, giving them an appraised value that will be used as a benchmark when the items eventually make it to public auction.

Money raised goes to a school fund managed by the Department of Education. Since the unclaimed property program was conceived more than four decades ago, they have raised more than $1.25 billion for the state's education trust fund.

And since the Department of Financial Services put its database on the Internet, the public is increasingly reclaiming its property.

“Our cycle has gone from 5,000 to 6,000 claims to somewhere in the neighborhood of 28,000, says Rick Sweet, assistant bureau chief.

We decided to try to reunite people with their long lost treasure using the state's database. We went door to door, trying to create some winning moments.


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