Lost money? Go find it. (iStock/iStock)
Columnist

I was changing purses one day and found money I had forgotten I tucked away for an emergency. You would have thought I hit the lottery.

During a recent online discussion, a reader reminded me of a database where people can find unclaimed funds.

"There are lots of hucksters out there claiming they will find your lost property for a 'modest' fee, but don't listen to them," the person wrote. "Do this. Go to unclaimed.org."

Yes, that's a legit free site run by the nonprofit National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, which is an affiliate of the National Association of State Treasurers. The databases you'll be searching are located and maintained by each state.

"My wife just received a check from the state of Florida for money that had been with the state for 20 some years," the reader said. "She will receive a check from the state of Texas for some money [handed over] to the state some 17 years ago. My wife didn't know anything about the money. Something her dad had apparently done while she was a minor. I also looked there when my dad died. I found a couple of thousand dollars with the state of Illinois from the 1960s. We moved from Illinois in 1956! This site is well worth a few minutes of computer time."

I would be doing somersaults if I found that much money.

Soon others chimed in about unclaimed cash they found.

Two sisters found $5,000 left by their father in Florida.

What a bounty!

"Twenty years later, we got back a deposit we had totally forgotten about for the apartment we rented in grad school," another person wrote.

One reader searched the database during the online chat and shared this:

"I'd never heard of [the site] and just checked. Looks like I have $55 from my campus job from over 10 years ago. Yay! That's a good chunk of change!"

Unclaimed property laws ensure that financial institutions, other businesses and government agencies return money owed to consumers. In 2015, more than $3 billion held by state governments was returned to folks, according to NAUPA.

"I found $6.37 through this site from money due me from the commonwealth of Virginia," another person said. "Not enough to retire, but enough to buy my dinner through the Wendy's drive-thru one evening!"

And here's something I didn't know: In most cases, there is no statute of limitations on claiming your money, and this includes claims by heirs.

You might want to do a search on behalf of family members.

"I checked the website and ran a number of family names/states," another reader said. "I'm not owed anything, but my sister, grandmother and aunt all are!"

Thanks to a tip from a relative, one person found $140.

"It was related to a small stock account I had," the reader wrote. "The stock had split or something, and I got some money. I had moved around the time of the stock split and had all my mail forwarded to my new address, but this one account never updated."

You can also search missingmoney.com, which is sponsored by NAUPA. At this site, you don't have to do a state-by-state search. Instead, you input your name and your current state of residence, and you get back a listing with funds being held in other jurisdictions that could be yours. Of course, with all these searches, you have to prove your identity.

Here are some other free resources to look for lost money.

Back wages from an old employer. Check out the U.S. Labor Department's "Workers Owed Wages" database at http://webapps.dol.gov/wow/

Unclaimed retirement plan funds. Have you forgotten about an old 401(k)? Search the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits (www.unclaimedretirementbenefits.com), which is a subsidiary of PenChecks, a private company that provides retirement distribution services.

You'll need to provide your social security number. If there's a match, you'll see the employer or financial institution holding the retirement money for you. If you are uncomfortable providing your social security number, start your search by contacting your former employer.

Failed pension funds. If your pension fund failed, you may still be owed some money. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the government agency that insures pensions, may now be the trustee of that plan and have money for you. Go to: https://www.pbgc.gov/wr/trusteed/plans

So, go look for your money. But please be careful of missing-money scams. Don't pay someone to do a search you can do for free. The point is to find cash -- not give it away.

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