Federation joins treasurer’s office to focus on funds left unclaimed

St. Louis NORC Manager Karen Berry-Elbert (right) speaks with Missouri Treasurer Clint Zweifel (left) as Jewish Federation President and CEO Andrew Rehfeld looks on during a press conference last week. Jewish Federation and the  Treasurer’s office are partnering to support an initiative to help Missourians search for unclaimed funds held by the state. Photos: Erin Wolfman/Courtesy Jewish Federation

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

When Carolyn Epstein received a call from leadership at the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC), asking if she’d ever lived on Midland Boulevard, she was surprised.

“I said, ‘Yes, 50 years ago,’” recalled the 75-year-old Shaare Zedek congregant. “They said, ‘Well, you have some unclaimed money.’”

ADVERTISEMENT
Volunteer with CASA ad


That call was worth $600 to Epstein, who is one of thousands of Missourians eligible to receive unclaimed funds or property from the state. Missouri Treasurer Clint Zweifel swung by the Millstone Campus on Tuesday to unveil a collaboration with the Jewish Federation, which is trying to promote awareness of these orphaned assets, usually old financial instruments or accounts abandoned or forgotten by their owners decades ago.

“Financial security is a vital issue for older adults and can make all the difference in helping them to live healthy, independent lives,” said Andrew Rehfeld, CEO of the Federation. “Knowing how to prevent property from going unclaimed, reclaiming it and securing unclaimed funds can contribute to their financial well-being.”

Rehfeld spoke to dozens of assembled seniors, many from the area’s NORC, which is overseen by the Federation. A number of them had been contacted by NORC staff regarding cash awaiting them and were on hand for the event where computers had been set up for participants to do online searches.

Assets can arise out of any number of sources from old life insurance policies to uncashed checks to utility deposits. Securities, mutual funds and even the contents of safety deposit boxes are turned over to the state if a financial institution loses contact with the owner for five years.

All told some $750 million remains unclaimed in the state’s coffers where a staff of 14 people maintain the effort to find and return it. About $225 million of that comes from the St. Louis area. 

Zweifel said finding the rightful owners of that property had been a priority during his administration which has pushed $140 million dollars back to the public since 2009. Roughly, $35 million was disbursed last year alone to some 123,000 different accounts.

“The average claim now is about $300,” said Zweifel, a former state representative who was elected to his present job in 2008. “That’s money that can be used for medical bills, utilities or groceries.”

Zweifel said that the unclaimed property office fields hundreds of calls each week from citizens, many of them seniors or their caregivers, inquiring about the cash.

“That’s why this education and outreach is especially important to return that unclaimed property and prevent someone else’s property from ever being unclaimed,” he said. “If we can help folks understand that, we’re going to do a better job of making sure they’re connected and that property goes where it belongs.”

Zweifel also took the opportunity to warn against scammers who often prey on seniors.

“Unfortunately, there are bad actors out there who target older Missourians specifically,” he said. “They promise large amounts of unclaimed property that may or may not exist. They require upfront payment. They require credit card information and often they don’t follow through with what they originally say.”

The treasurer said that his office never charges for unclaimed property and warned that no one should ever give financial details out to individuals they do not know over the telephone.

By contrast, legitimate calls, like the one Epstein received, came courtesy of Karen Berry-Elbert, director of the NORC, who said that after finding out about the new partnership with the Federation, she became curious and got online.

 “I started looking up some names randomly and found a number of our residents and members who did have some unclaimed property and I wanted to make sure they got here so they could learn how to file the claim and have access to those dollars,” said Elbert. “They’re important and make a difference to people on fixed incomes.”

She said she looked up about 50 names and about half had money listed.

Babs Bogardus, a local NORC resident, was one of those Elbert contacted.

“It was probably an investment or something that may have been sold and this was interest afterward,” said Bogardus, who was told about $42 she was owed. “Not having a computer, there was no way I could have checked. The organization really helped and did the work.”

Not everyone had a huge payday of course. A smiling Evelyn Kleiman said she was glad to find unclaimed money though it was not exactly a small fortune.

It was 30 cents.

 

The Treasurer’s searchable database for unclaimed property can be found online at showmemoney.com. For more information, email to [email protected] or phone 573-751-0123.