Millions of Americans have billions of dollars they don't know about.
Grace Duncan is one of them: she stopped by the county Treasurer’s Office this week to pay her property tax bill. While there, she made her semi-annual pilgrimage to the stack of books along the wall, checking to see if her name was in them.
Has she ever found any unclaimed funds? Yes, she says: A few years ago, she found and claimed $2,000 under the name of her father, John.
"That was a lot of money," she said, "not a little bit. I consider $2,000 a decent amount, and some people sure could use that.”
Treasurer Robert Goering says one family recently found out they had an unclaimed $50,000 insurance policy, a second payment for a fire in their home years ago.
They collected the first check but never realized there was a second policy on the house.
Where is the Money From?
Goering said unclaimed funds can come from anywhere, like "old bank accounts that have been turned over to the state, or it could be insurance proceeds after an accident or fire."
Other times, it is utility or apartment deposits, or an inheritance you never knew was coming. And it probably was sent to your old address.
"If there was some inaccuracy on the address, or you moved several times, it could all be sitting there, waiting for you to claim the money," Goering said.
So the checks get returned to sender, and most people never check their name.
Skeptical at First
Dottie Van Pelt was skeptical of these lists at first, until she saw her father’s name. “I found out there was $4,000 after my Dad died.
"I had to split it with my sister, of course, but $2,000 was a lot of money," said Van Pelt, who is no longer able to work full time. "I try to live on Social Security disability, and that's impossible."
How to Check
You can check the old-fashioned way, going through the books in your state or county treasurer's office.
"It's worth checking, yes it is," Grace Duncan said. "If people would just stop and do that, they might find something."
Cash Back from Class Actions
So you didn't find anything on the unclaimed funds list this time? Check again every six months or so.
But you may be eligible to join one of many class action lawsuits, and get money back for a product you bought that was defective or was a case of deceptive advertising.
Recent settlements included money back for buying Red Bull energy drink, canned Tuna, and other popular items.
Current open class actions include possibly money back for Kohl's "sale" prices, defective Ford spark plugs, advertising claims for Tom's Toothpaste, and many more.
Go to www.topclassactions.com to see what cases you may qualify for.
And that way, you don’t waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.
Follow John on Twitter ( @JohnMatarese )