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WCAX Investigates: Unclaimed Cash - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

WCAX Investigates: Unclaimed Cash

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

It's that time of year when banks, credit unions, corporations, utilities, insurance companies, retailers and state agencies must report forgotten bank accounts, uncashed checks and other lost cash to the Vermont Treasurer's Office.

"So as those dollars are coming in, we're putting those up every day on our website," said Beth Pearce, D-Vt. Treasurer.

Even if you've checked this website in the past, now is the time to check again.

"They don't know. They don't check," Pearce said. "They say, 'Well, it's not that much.'"

It's your money and there are millions up for grabs.

"Three-hundred-and-fifty-thousand different records totaling $76 million," Pearce noted.

The state has to keep that fortune safe until you claim it. In Vermont, your right to cash in never expires.

"We need to get those dollars back out to our customers," Pearce said.

We discovered the average payout is $299.

More than 15,000 claims were filed last fiscal year, reuniting taxpayers with $4.5 million.

"We were very pleasantly surprised," said Linda Wichlac of Bennington Project Independence.

WCAX Investigates helped find thousands for a Bennington nonprofit.

"Thirteen-thousand, eight-hundred-and-seventeen dollars," Wichlac said.

Six-year-old proceeds from a donor's stock portfolio Wichlac didn't know about.

"That money must have gone into that account we assumed was closed and we received no notification all these years."

Project Independence keeps dozens of seniors on their toes. Now, the director says she'll use this cash to keep building renovations rolling.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: Do you think the money would have made it to you had this not unfolded?

Linda Wichlac: No, I do not believe that would have happened.

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Jennifer Costa: If the state can do it for Project Independence, should they be doing it for more individuals?

Beth Pearce: We are. We are reaching out. For instance, this year, a notice to all town clerks.

The law requires the treasurer's office to try to track you down. They attend fairs, print newspaper inserts and advertise on TV.

"It's consumer protection. It's about doing the right thing for those individuals," Pearce said.

Still, the state's biggest challenge is getting people to fill out the claim forms.

Jennifer Costa: Are people going to have to jump through hoops to get this money?

Beth Pearce: We are looking for ways to streamline the claims process to make it easier to get those monies, at the same time maintain the proper internal controls. You wouldn't want me to give your money to someone else with a similar name.

The treasurer's office is trying to figure out a secure way for you to e-file a claim but that's still a work in progress.

Taxpayers don't pay for this program. It's completely funded by the interest earned on that huge pot of unclaimed cash.

And there's more than just money up for grabs. We got the treasurer's office to open up its unclaimed property vault, something that rarely happens. We weren't allowed to touch anything, but we saw lots of pretty cool heirlooms waiting to be reunited with long-lost owners. There were Civil War letters, purple hearts, engagement rings, silver sets, rare coins and notes.

In Vermont, you never lose the right to claim this stuff. The state has to hold onto it forever. So some of it has been in the vault for decades. Some of it is worth a lot of money, others are rich in sentimental value.

"We don't collect automobiles, we don't collect bikes, but we do collect safety deposit boxes. And that would be listed on their website. Not the contents, but it will be listed on our website," Pearce said. "We encourage people to check that out. You might find some old family memorabilia, a little bit of family history in a safety deposit box and those are great moments."

May 1 is the deadline for companies to turn over cash and property to the state. So even if you've checked the site in the past, now is the time to check again. Click here for the website.

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