Unclaimed money

TikTok trend spurs record-breaking numbers of Virginians to cash out unclaimed property

A TikTok trend of people cashing out unclaimed property held by state governments is helping break records in Virginia’s Treasury Department and fill the pockets of Virginians with money they’re rightfully owed. 

Bradley Earl, director of the Unclaimed Property Division at the Virginia Treasury Department, said the agency’s “claims numbers jumped last week, and I think it’s directly as a result of TikTok.”

This jump in claims correlates with an April 13 spike in Google searches nationwide and in Virginia for “unclaimed property.” 

Earl said the process of obtaining unclaimed money from sources such as inactive or dormant bank and investment accounts or uncashed payroll checks has never been more popular – or easier. 

A new platform on the department’s website launched last August allows residents to search their names, file claims for property they believe is owed to them and potentially receive a check for it ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred thousand within 10 days. 

Unclaimed property is “a consumer protection program that essentially safeguards funds that belong to individuals that are being held by companies or entities of that nature,” Earl said.

The department has already paid out over $46 million for the more than 50,000 claims it’s received so far this fiscal year, Earl said, which is more than double the amount of the claims submitted during the entire 2022 fiscal year. He attributes the record-breaking increase to the decision to switch from a 100% paper-based claims system to the current online program combined with increased awareness from social media.

“It’s unique,” said Earl. “You don’t typically come across a government agency that’s trying to give money away.” 

Filing a claim doesn’t always automatically result in quick access to funds, Earl said. In some instances, he said the department needs more detailed information like identification documents or verification of homeownership to process claims and spot fraud. Unclaimed property for deceased relatives can also be claimed by individuals by submitting official documents like death certificates, probated wills or a list of heirs, depending on the circumstance. That process could take around six weeks, especially for larger amounts of money.

“The new platform has been immensely popular, so we’re a victim of our own success here,” Earl said. 

Another success Earl cited is companies being more thorough in reporting unclaimed property, which adds to the “millions upon millions” currently in the state’s account. Every single dollar can’t be reunited with its rightful owner because some people move out of state or pass away, which is why Earl said a portion of this money is legally mandated to go into the state’s Literary Fund. 

Find out if you have unclaimed property

Do you have unclaimed property? Search for what you’re owed through the Virginia Treasury Department’s website at www.VaMoneySearch.gov.

Over a billion dollars in claims have been returned since the program’s implementation in 1961, said Earl.

“So you can imagine how much we’ve turned over to the Literary Fund over the years – significantly more than a million dollars, I would say,” he said.

Earl also emphasized that the balance of what is owed to individuals never goes away until it is claimed.

“The cash itself may, but the balance itself does not, so it’s a self-funded program in that respect,” Earl said.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin and his administration officially announced the launch of the new unclaimed property online platform last October, encouraging residents to take advantage of it.

“One in four Virginians has unclaimed property so we encourage all Virginians to search our free website for their unclaimed property,” said Virginia Treasurer David Richardson in the October press release. “There is no deadline, and no fees will be charged to claim your property.”

Unauthorized fee-based services for finding and redeeming unclaimed property do exist online, which is why Earl emphasized it’s important that residents filing claims do so through the Treasury Department’s website at www.VaMoneySearch.gov.

Earl also encouraged people to check whether their family members have unclaimed property while on the website because “we want to give as much of this away that we can.”

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