Ask Kim


4 Ways to Get Lost Money from Government Agencies

Kimberly Lankford

The IRS is returning more than $150 million in undelivered tax refund checks. Here's how you can cash in.



I just read that the IRS is looking to return more than $150 million in undelivered tax refund checks. Is this a scam? And if it’s a legitimate announcement, is there a way to track down lost money from other government agencies, too?

Although there are plenty of scam artists who claim to be from the IRS, this announcement is for real: The service is holding on to $153.3 million in unclaimed funds from tax refund checks that were returned to the IRS because of mailing-address errors. The average check is $1,547, so it’s worthwhile to do a search using the IRS’s Where’s My Refund? tool if you believe any of this money may be yours, particularly if you have moved in the past few years and did not update your address with the IRS.

You may also discover unclaimed money by searching for old U.S. savings bonds that have been forgotten over the years. Billions of dollars in savings bonds have stopped earning interest but haven’t been cashed. Go to www.treasuryhunt.gov to look up savings bonds issued in 1974 or later.

State governments may be holding some of your money, too. State treasuries hold billions of dollars in unclaimed property from uncashed dividend checks, returned utility deposits, uncollected insurance benefits, old savings accounts and other money that may have been returned to the financial institution after being sent to a defunct mailing address.

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Most states have an unclaimed-property database that makes it easy to see whether any of the money is yours. You can find links to each state’s agency through the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Most states participate in the large MissingMoney.com database, too. Enter your name and the states where you have lived, and you’ll be able to see whether there is unclaimed property for someone with your name; the last address on file with the financial institution; and whether the unclaimed property is worth more or less than $100. Most states then include links to the forms you’ll need to submit to the state treasury to verify your identity and claim the money.

You’re smart to be suspicious of any communications that offer to help you locate lost cash; scam artists and identity thieves use such messages to try to steal your money or personal information (the IRS never sends personal e-mails requesting information). Instead of clicking on a link in an e-mail claiming to be from the government, go to agency sites directly to view their databases. Also check the FBI’s New E-Scams & Warnings page for information about recent scams.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.



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