9/15/2015 10:14:43 AM
By Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman
With an estimated one in 20 Minnesotans having unclaimed property worth more than $100, the Minnesota Commerce Department was busy at this year’s Great Minnesota Get-Together helping fairgoers find their missing money.
We even had special assistance from our new Missing Money Man mascot. Although this caped crusader couldn’t hand out cash on a stick, he did offer fairgoers the opportunity to discover potential lost treasures by searching for their names on a database of unclaimed property turned over to the state.
With our help, Minnesotans have found lost bank accounts, payroll checks never cashed, tax refunds never delivered, life insurance benefits never known and stock proceeds never received. In just the past two years, we returned nearly $68 million.
While Missing Money Man may seem a bit light-hearted, he serves a serious purpose as a symbol of the Commerce Department’s commitment to reuniting Minnesotans with their missing money.
This financial lost-and-found service goes to the heart of our agency’s consumer protection mission. Each year the Commerce Department receives millions of dollars in unclaimed property from businesses that have lost contact with their owners. When turned over to the state, we are responsible for safeguarding these funds until claimed by the rightful owners or heirs.
During the past four years, we have pursued a comprehensive strategy to connect more Minnesotans with their missing money.
First, we have made it easier for Minnesotans to get their missing money by upgrading technology and overhauling procedures to create a more streamlined, consumer-friendly claims process.
The numbers are significant. We have reduced the claim time from as much as 90 days down to as little as 48 hours. This last fiscal year, Commerce paid nearly 20,000 claims, more than triple the 6,377 claims four years ago.
Second, Commerce has worked more closely with businesses to work harder to return unclaimed money to Minnesotans and improve compliance with Minnesota laws about reporting and transferring unclaimed property in their possession.
For example, we found a troubling pattern in which many life insurance companies failed to pay up when their policyholders died, making virtually no effort to locate beneficiaries.
So far, the Commerce Department has reached settlements with six major life insurers, resulting in more than $30 million in overdue benefits being paid directly to Minnesotans, with millions more turned over to the state as unclaimed property.
Third, despite a limited budget, we have enhanced public outreach to Minnesotans with creative approaches like the State Fair and a Good Morning America TV segment at the Mall of America.
We want more Minnesotans to know that it’s easy for them to do their own search for unclaimed property at the MissingMoney.com website. It takes only seconds to type in a name and see what might be there for you or your family.
Building on the success we have already achieved, we know we can do more to get missing money in the hands of Minnesotans.
That's why we worked with Rep. Joe Atkins and supported his proposal to boost publicity and expand outreach efforts to find Minnesotans who have unclaimed property. While this legislation didn’t pass, it highlights a real need.
We will ask the legislature to reconsider this proposal and go even further by significantly increasing the resources available to Commerce so we can redouble our efforts to return unclaimed property to Minnesotans.
With modest additional resources, Commerce can carry out a statewide public education campaign to more effectively inform Minnesotans about their missing money, using both traditional and new media. Commerce can identify and reach out to more Minnesotans who have significant amounts of unclaimed property. And we can help businesses locate unclaimed property owners, avoiding the need to transfer these funds to the state in the first place.
The Commerce Department is here to help and make things easier for both consumers and businesses. As our Missing Money Man told fairgoers, “It’s your money and we want you to have it!”
Mike Rothman is the Minnesota Commerce Commissioner.
Banking & Finance