Military, state agencies and schools could be owed money
With just a single full-time investigator and support staff working to unite millions of unclaimed assets with their owners, a billion dollars worth of abandoned property now sits in the state's coffers.
Though some of those assets may belong to the dead or, at least the hard-to-reach, other owners of unclaimed property are just a phone call away - including government agencies, school districts, major companies and even two branches of the U.S. military.
``We'd love to have the funds to (expand) the full-time tracking down,'' said Alison Mitchell, spokeswoman for State Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who oversees the Abandoned Property Division.
Unclaimed assets - including savings accounts, uncashed checks and safe deposit boxes - must have no activity for three years before holders turn them over to the State Treasurer's office. Mitchell said federal law requires each state to have an agency to oversee abandoned properties.
Though many of the four million accounts in the state's care could be worth just a few dollars, they also add up to about a billion dollars this year, she said.
While Cahill has returned about $222 million in his five years in office, the agency receives about 40,000 new accounts every six months, she said. Those new assets are worth about $40 million, said Mitchell.
According to the State Treasurer's Web site, abandoned assets are deposited in the Massachusetts General Fund annually, but owners can claim them at any time. There is no time limit to filing a claim.
As examples, a Sudbury resident was owed about $176 and was sent a notification letter about a month ago, while an Acton resident was sent a similar letter earlier this week for about $578, she said.
But that list also includes high-profile companies such as Staples, Genzyme, TJX, Dairy Queen, MetroWest Medical Center, Sears, the New England Journal of Medicine and Avery Dennison Corp.
Surprisingly, a number of state agencies are among those owed property, including the Department of Correction, the Department of Social Services, plus district courts in Waltham, Newton, Worcester, Lawrence and Gloucester. On the federal level, the Army's Natick Labs and the U.S. Air Force are also owed unclaimed property.
Ditto for the State House Book Store and the State House Market, both of which have unclaimed property with the state.
The Abandoned Property Division runs newspaper ads twice a year, plus ``Dear Citizen'' letters to individuals who have not claimed their property, she said.
The agency lacks the resources to expand direct contacts with owners, and in the case of the courts, there is uncertainty about who to contact, she said.
Property owners should also be held accountable in managing their own property, said Mitchell.
``We do send out the ``Dear Citizen'' letter. A little responsibility lies with the... owner,'' said Mitchell.
But despite millions of accounts, the budget allows just one full-time investigator who works to unite the most valuable accounts with their owners, plus support staff in the Abandoned Property Division, she said.
The list is searchable online at www.findmassmoney.com.
John Hilliard of The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News can be reached at 508-626-4449 or email@example.com.