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Call Kurtis Investigates: Unclaimed Property Loophole

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Eight-time Emmy Award winner Kurtis Ming is CBS13's consumer...
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A Call Kurtis investigation reveals the state of California is taking in some people’s money as unclaimed property, and they may never get it back.

It’s a loophole that has allowed the state to keep millions of dollars.

Tanner Call, 15, just wants his Christmas and birthday money back. But he’s getting bounced between Bank of America and the state.

“Whether it’s $30 or $100 or $1, it’s my money. So, I mean it makes me mad,” said Tanner.

Without warning, B of A closed his savings account holding $30.75. A notice he received later said the money was turned over to California’s unclaimed property program, which is supposed to hold money in your name until you claim it.

But Tanner’s father, Will ran into a problem getting the money back.

“The state says there’s nothing showing up for Tanner. They don’t have any record of receiving anything and they don’t know when it’s coming or if it’s coming,” said Will.

If you don’t touch your money for three years, it’s considered unclaimed property and must go to the state. But we found something interesting in the state law. While banks must hand over the unclaimed money, they only need to send along the owner’s identification if the property has a value of at least $50, which explains why the state had no record of Tanner’s $30.75.

“How can you run a program that returns unclaimed funds to the rightful owners if you don’t ask for the name of the owner?” asked attorney Bill Palmer.

Palmer is a longtime critic of the state’s unclaimed property program.

“It’s purposely designed that way, to become a fish ladder for consumers and citizens so that they never make it to the top and get their funds back,” said Palmer.

Under a Public Records Act request, we’ve learned the state has taken in $68,096,203.68 since 2007 without any property owner information. That’s money that ends up in the state’s general fund.

Our request for an interview with Controller John Chiang was ignored, but in a previous interview he insisted returning money to owners is a top priority.

Once CBS13 contacted Bank of America, it agreed to return Tanner’s money. But the new challenge, we found, was how he plans on spending the $30.75.

“He’s gonna take me out to dinner,” said Will.

“No, I’m taking me out to dinner,” said Tanner.

If you think money went to the state but your name isn’t listed on their unclaimed property website, the controller’s office says its property owner advocate can help you search for it.

Although the law doesn’t require it, the state says it encourages businesses to turn over unclaimed property with identifying information, even if it’s less than $50.

California law also says businesses only have to warn you before your property is turned over to the state if it’s at least $50.

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