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Investigators: $1B in unclaimed property sitting in Tennessee

Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 10:28 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - An Action News 5 investigation reveals more than $1 billion owed to Tennesseeans who may have no idea the money is ready and waiting.

There’s millions more up for grabs in Arkansas and Mississippi.

Tennesseans are unknowingly sitting on more unclaimed property than ever before. Unclaimed property isn’t property at all, it’s money.

“It’s money from businesses that can’t get it back to its rightful owner,” said Shelli King with the Tennessee Department of Treasury. “It could be a utility refund, an uncashed paycheck.”

According to King, when a bank, business, or other organization owes you money and can’t locate you after three years, usually because your last known address is wrong or you moved, that money is turned over to the treasury department in your name.

Currently, one in six Tennesseans has money in the pot. Some claims date back to the 1970s and some are for large amounts upwards of $100,000.

The Volunteer State now has a record amount of unclaimed property of more than $1.1 billion.

“I think as an economy we’re growing and also awareness for the program grows. The business side and people side,” said King.

We asked King for a list of all people in Shelby County who are owed $20,000 or more and were given nearly 200 names. We searched for them and found many had moved. One home had even been torn down. So, we hit the streets and asked people if we could search their names on the treasury department website.

That’s when we found Jerome Ratliff. Ratliff has trudged a rough road, but lately, he says things have been looking up.

“God’s been good. I was homeless. Now, I’m not. I have my own place,” Ratliff said.

We went to Tennessee’s unclaimed property website, typed in Ratliff’s name, and found he is owed more than $250, which is all the website will tell you.

A total is only revealed after a claim has been filed by the owner.

“When we reached out to the state treasurer on Ratliff’s behalf, we learned he has more than $10,000 dollars just waiting to be claimed.

“Well, I’ll be. Mm mm, mm. I never would’ve imagined that. I wouldn’t. I’m in shock right now. I really am. I had no idea,” Ratliff said.

We met Rebecca Mitchell, who wasn’t owed any money, but her husband and her parents were in Arkansas.

“I wonder why they don’t just cut us a check and mail it to us,” she said.

Arkansas auditor of state says there are more than $340 million dollars in unclaimed property in the Natural State.

Mississippi’s unclaimed property number changes weekly, but the state says it’s fluctuating right now between 70 and $90 million. Mississippi says it earns about one percent on the property annually, which is then paid out to the owner when the claim is completed.

Tennessee’s unclaimed money is used in the state’s general fund to pay for state services we all rely on, but that won’t stop the state from returning property.

“We always have the money ready to return to the original owner when it’s claimed,” King said.

“Maybe I’ve got some property out there that I don’t know about,” said Patricia Cooper.

Cooper was born and raised in Memphis. While she didn’t have any unclaimed property, we looked up her parents’ names. Money owed to a parent could be yours as an heir.

With all claims, you must prove your identity and your right to the claim. So, if you are an heir or owed larger amounts, you may have to go through state court.

We spoke with three people in Shelby County who are owed more than $20,000 through their parents. Each knew they had the money, but said the paperwork and court process wasn’t worth claiming it.

Cooper says she’ll try no matter what.

“Any amount of money would help out. So, if I could get it, that would be great,” Cooper said.

It does not cost money to file a claim in Tennessee, Arkansas, or Mississippi. There *are services that charge a convenience fee to help you with your unclaimed property and that’s not illegal. It’s up to you if you’d like to use a service. for more information or to search for and claim your property, click here.

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