ND tries to return unclaimed moneyBISMARCK — Linda Fisher sits in a booth at the North Dakota State Fair each year, trying to give away millions of dollars. Some approach her cautiously, trying to determine if it’s a sting operation.
BISMARCK — Linda Fisher sits in a booth at the North Dakota State Fair each year, trying to give away millions of dollars.
Some approach her cautiously, trying to determine if it’s a sting operation.
But she has legitimate money — $32 million worth that’s built up since 1975, to be exact.
Fisher is administrator of the Unclaimed Property Division of the State Land Department.
Despite the sound of it, the division doesn’t give away land or real estate — just money. And there are more than 61,000 people and businesses with a right to it.
The money comes from a variety of sources: state tax refunds, insurance proceeds, death benefits, uncashed payroll and expense checks, securities and safety deposit boxes.
Rebates that never made it to customers or were never cashed are also piling up. Federal tax refunds do not end up there, however.
Businesses are required to go through their accounting books every year to see what’s outstanding, Fisher said. If they are unable to reach the person owed money, the money needs to be reported to the state where it can be claimed free of charge.
Because the State Fair was canceled this year due to flooding in Minot, Fisher is trying other ways to get the word out about unclaimed money held by the state. She also wants to clear up misconceptions about the agency.
“The unclaimed property list is not a list of people that can’t be found,” she said, adding people are often amazed the division “can’t find” hospitals and well-known people on the list to give them their money.
Rather, the list is just that: a list of people and businesses that have money held by the state. And they need to claim it.
Besides those who are simply unaware, there’s “a list as long as my arm” as to why people don’t claim their money, Fisher said.
About one-third of the claims are for $50 to $100, according to 2007-09 data, the most recent available. Some people don’t bother if their claim is a small amount.
Others think the claim process is too difficult. And some have unusual reasons.
“One guy had $10,000 here, and he called me and he said, ‘I will never claim it. It’s blood money,’ “ Fisher said.
The man’s family claimed the money after he died.
Grand Forks Public Schools typically checks once a year to see if it’s made the unclaimed property list, said business manager Bill Hutchison. The district is in the process of collecting its latest amount of $500, he said.
“I’m glad they do it (the service),” he said. “It works out well.”
AAA North Dakota is among those on Fargo’s list of residents and businesses with unclaimed money. Spokesman Gene LaDoucer said he had no idea the state was holding money that belongs to the agency. He planned to look into collecting the money.
Others, like Stuart Savelkoul of Bismarck, know the state has their money, but haven’t gotten around to collecting it.
“I know I should do it,” he said. “I even know how to get all of the information (for the claim). I just haven’t done the step-by-step process yet.”
About one-third of the claims are fairly easy to collect, but others require more work, Fisher said.
There is not an expiration date for a claim on the money, so the state can’t take possession of it after a certain period of time without the owner’s consent.
However, the state does use the interest from the fund to benefit the common schools trust fund, Fisher said.
Every state has an unclaimed property law, but some companies claim they don’t know about the law or don’t report unclaimed property until they get caught, she said.
North Dakota has typically fared better than other states with returning money, in terms of what’s collected compared to what’s paid back, Fisher said. Word of mouth helps, since “everyone knows someone who knows someone,” she said.
In fiscal year 2010, the state took in $3.8 million in unclaimed property and paid out $1.5 million.
Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.