Chris Summers couldn't believe her unexpected windfall -- a pile of money just sitting in an old savings account. That's how she got a new car.
"I just, I had no idea," she said.
The account belonged to an aunt who died in 1987. It kept earning interest when it was passed on to her uncle. Then he died, leaving Chris and her sister as heirs.
How much you ask?
"Well, it was enough for me to pay cash for this (new car), and my sister to build a huge garage," says Chris
When you hear that, you pay attention when you get a recorded phone message like this: "We are calling to notify you that there is unclaimed money or property valued at over $600 that may belong to you. Please call our claims department as soon as possible."
Joan Rendek got that message and called back.
John Graves got a call, too. "I mean, I called the number," he says.
At least three companies claim they'll help you claim your cash. The company names are made up of different initials, and the word "claims" or "claims retrieval". All the calls originate from California.
But you have to send them your money to find out whether you really have money coming to you.
One of the companies gives a San Francisco number, but has you send your money to a private mailbox in Irvine. Two others originate in Anaheim and Glendale.
None of the recordings allow you any way to talk to a human, and none will send you any information without the $25 fee.
That's a big red flag! Washington's Attorney General says the calls are a scam.
Real Money Waiting To Be Claimed
But there is money waiting to be claimed. In fact, there's millions of dollars kept in a secret location in Olympia.
When banks and businesses have your money or property and can't find you, the law requires them to turn it over to the state. Most cash, such as paychecks, IRS refunds or retail account credits, go into a state fund.
Other personal property, such as documents or collections abandoned in safe deposit boxes, are held for five years, then auctioned off. The proceeds of the auction go into the state fund until the rightful owner claims the money.
It's Patti Wilson's job with the State Department of Revenue to keep track of it all. "It could be your will, a birth certificate, a coin collection," she says. Or it could be expensive jewelry, old stock certificates, and Rolex watches.
Someone out there has claim to a bag full of old silver coins and collectible bills. KOMO 4 News counted more than $500 face value. One expert told us the collectible value is at least three times that.
There's even more cash in the state's bank account.
"Bank accounts, checking, savings, certificates of deposit, cashier's checks," Wilson says.
The best part is you don't have to pay anyone a dime to find out if it's yours. It's all listed on a special state Web site for unclaimed property.
"We want people to be out there constantly searching the web," says Wilson.
Check Other States
And not just Washington State's Web site. Every state in the country has a special Web site for unclaimed property.
Do you want to know if you have cash in California? Property in Pennsylvania? Just log on and enter your name. It doesn't cost a thing.
That's how Chris Summers' relatives discovered she had money.
"We thought, 'Oh, it's probably not that much,' " says Summers, "so I didn't pursue it."
Summers was contacted by a locator who's employed by the state. The state locators do this for free, it's their job. They only track consumers who have large amounts of money coming. People like Chris Summers.
"It was close to $55,000," she says.
There are legitimate locators who charge a finder's fee, or a percentage of what your unclaimed property is worth. These locators may have purchased lists from businesses before the information is turned over to the state.
Each state regulates how much they can charge. In Washington State, it's no more than 5 percent.
While this is legal, keep in mind that states ultimately require the unclaimed property to be turned over to the Department of Revenue.
Also remember, legitimate locators always have verifiable identification and they never make you pay up front.
Many for-profit Web sites will charge a fee to download their databases, just keep in mind, this is information which you can obtain yourself, for free if you're willing to put in the time.
Federal agencies, such as HUD, FHA and the IRS maintain separate databases for unclaimed property. If you think you may have a refund or unclaimed property through a federal agency, you must check with them separately. Links to those sites are included below.
In every case, if you are entitled to property being held, you'll need to file a claim form and provide information to verify you are the true owner of the property in question.
If there's a chance you may be an heir to property or money in other states, it's important to check regularly, as new information is reported and data bases and web sites are updated.
For More Information:
To Check For Unclaimed Property
Washington State Unclaimed Property -- ucp.dor.wa.gov, or call toll free: 1-800-435-2429.
Other Unclaimed Property sites -- ucp.dor.wa.gov
Unclaimed Property Scams