Hey Seattleites, the state has your $273 million. Here’s how to claim it. (Not a scam, we swear)
TL;DR: Go to ucp.dor.wa.gov and plug in your name.
Long version: The state is currently holding more than $1.6 billion dollars that’s presumed to be “abandoned” by more than 11 million people, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue. $273 million worth of unclaimed cash is waiting to be claimed by Seattleites alone.
I didn’t even know I had “abandoned” any money. Apparently, an urgent care clinic owed me $52.96 from 2019, but I didn’t know until I stumbled upon and searched the state’s database.
Then, I started plugging in the names of everyone who came to mind and found money owed to a KUOW editor, my uncle Bob, my neighbor Ashley, and my late grandmother.
I sent some screenshots.
“Seems scammy, but I think it’s legit,” I said.
It is legit.
But where does the money come from?
It’s called “unclaimed property.” While that phrase might bring to mind old storage units stuffed with jewels, or a mafioso's seized Maserati, it’s actually mostly different forms of money. For example, old paychecks, unpaid refunds and unreturned deposits, said Patti Wilson, unclaimed property program administrator for the Department of Revenue.
“If you had a utility deposit that you put down, and then you moved, and they sent you the deposit back, and for some reason they didn’t have your new address or your forwarding address, that becomes unclaimed property,” she said.
Every year businesses, utilities, and government agencies have to report money belonging to customers they’ve lost contact with – for instance, people who haven’t logged into their accounts for a long time or who never cashed a check the company sent.
If you’re owed thousands you might get a call from a paid “locator” with the state's Department of Revenue, said Wilson.
“You wouldn’t believe how many times [the locator] had people hang up on him because they thought it was a scam, and he would just call right back,” she said.
But most of the time, you won’t get a call.
Companies often report the cash to the government, but don't include much info, Wilson said.
“Sometimes we only get a name; We might get a name and a social security number; We might get a name and a partial address,” she said. “We don’t know if you still live at that address.”
That’s just a little too shady for the state to cut a check.
Many folks don’t know they’re owed dough – even if they help run the government. In my journey through the state’s database, I found the names of Governor Jay Inslee and two of his sons, Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, and most Seattle City council members.
“The governor is aware of this program, and is glad that DOR is actively working to get Washingtonians back their unclaimed property,” spokesperson Tara Lee wrote in an email. “We have shared the information with the governor and Trudi Inslee about the entries for the governor and their sons.”
The state’s database is full of Tara Lees, by the way, but Lee said none are her.
The state’s database contains an army of Robert and Bob Fergusons, too, but the attorney general said he doesn’t think any are him, according to spokesperson Brionna Aho. She, however, was owed as much as $50 under the unfortunate misspellings of “Brianna” and “Bnonna.”
“Sounds like you went down the same rabbit hole I did when I learned this site existed! I think I looked up basically everyone I had ever met whose name I could confidently spell,” Aho said over email.
Most money never returns to its rightful owner.
This fiscal year, the Department of Revenue has returned less than a third of the $202 million it has received in unclaimed property from businesses, utilities, and government agencies in Washington state, according to the department.
Last year the department gave back less than half of the $185 million it received in unclaimed property.
“Not all the property we get has names associated with it,” the program’s administrator, Patti Wilson said.
She presented the particularly mind-boggling case of traveler’s checks. The company that issues them reports the checks to the state as unclaimed property if the traveler’s checks were never spent. But, only a check number — and no name — is present in the state's database.
Meanwhile, unclaimed money wallows in state coffers indefinitely, awaiting its rightful owner. Sort of like Hachiko, the renowned Akita dog who waited at Tokyo's Shibuya train station every day after its human died at work and never came home.
But I digress.
The fact that so few people know they’re owed money is a big problem for State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti.
“It should be an absolute priority for government to be working hard to get this in the pockets of the people that own this money, especially during times like this,” he said.
During the last legislative session, Pellicciotti requested to have the legislature take up the issue and increase awareness of unclaimed property, along with the public's access to it. (The state treasurer does not run the program — the Department of Revenue does — but he's pushing to bring it under the purview of his office instead.)
Pellicciotti checks the state database of unclaimed property all the time. It could almost be a party trick.
In a given handful of people someone usually is owed some money.
“My rule of thumb is almost an assumption that people do have unclaimed property.”
As for my “abandoned” medical bill refund, a nice lady on the phone said I can expect a check in the mail in four to six weeks.