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Call Kurtis Investigates: State Can Keep Your Unclaimed Money Under Bill Meant To Close Loophole

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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A bill meant to make sure money you may have forgotten about would end up back in your hands, may not fully solve the problem exposed in a Call Kurtis Investigation.

“In order to continue the bill and not have the bill die, we had to make that amendment,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal from Long Beach.

She drafted the bill after we introduced you to 15-year-old Tanner Call of Elk Grove. The $30.75 he had in his bank account ended up getting sent to the state’s unclaimed property division. State law didn’t require his bank to send along his name, because it was less than $50. With no name, there was little chance the state would ever return his money.

“It’s my money, so I mean it makes me mad,” Tanner said.

Through a public records act request, our investigation uncovered the state has taken in $68 million dollars in unclaimed property since 2007 with no property owner information. Assemblywoman Lowenthal drafted a bill dropping that $50 and up rule, instead requiring all unclaimed money to have names attached when sent to the state regardless of the dollar amount.

“I think it was unreasonable for people who have small amounts of money to be treated differently than people who have larger amounts of money,” she said.

As the bill worked its way through legislators, it was modified. Instead of requiring names be sent in with all money, it’s now been changed to $25 and up.

“It was a little too expensive to get that bill passed,” she said.

An analysis determined it would cost the state an estimate $450-thousand dollars each year, to prepare mailers and buy postage to send notices to property owners.

“$450,000.  Isn’t that the trade off for doing the right thing and getting the money back to the appropriate people,” Kurtis asked Lowenthal.

“I wish it was, but the State of California isn’t flush enough quite yet,” she replied.

Sacramento Attorney Bill Palmer, a long time critic of the unclaimed property program calls the response absolutely ludicrous. He says it backs what he’s long said; the state is stealing from you as a source of revenue to help pay the state’s bills.

“It’s just taking money from people. It’s a fundamental violation of the united states constitution. We’re bankrupt. This is the type of thing the government does now.”

Palmer just served Controller John Chiang who oversees the Unclaimed Property Division with a class action lawsuit demanding his office right a wrong.

“The Controller is going to go back to each one of those companies at the end of the day, and get the names of the owners so those people can claim their money.”

The Controller’s Office did not comment on the suit saying they hadn’t read it yet. Assemblywoman Lowenthal admits her bill isn’t exactly what she intended, but says it’s better than nothing.

“Kurtis, that was the trade off,” she said.

The Controller’s office says Chiang strongly preferred the original language in the bill, protecting property owners regardless of the dollar amount.

Tanner did end up getting his money back from the bank, after we contacted his bank.

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