Dear ABC News Fixer: New York Owes Me Money

PHOTO: one in four Americans prefer cash

Dear ABC News Fixer: I have unclaimed money due to me from the State of New York from my deceased father, but it's tied up in bureaucratic paperwork even though they confirmed I have money due.

Also, I found some old stock certificates. I don't know what the value is or how to recoup this money. Please help.

- Bettse Birnbaum, Monroe, N.J.

[With this column, The ABC News Fixer has saved ABC News readers more than $100,000! Tune in to ABC News' "Good Morning America" and "The Lookout" tomorrow to see Stephanie in action in a new report that could save you thousands. And as always, CLICK HERE to send in your consumer problems.]

Dear Bettse: We were happy to reunite you with your long lost funds. But first – here's an astonishing statistic: the State of New York has $12.5 billion in unclaimed funds, representing more than 30 million individual account records.

How are people not missing all that money? If the ABC News Fixer loses 20 bucks, it's a really big deal.

Unclaimed funds come from all sorts of places, like old bank accounts, uncashed paychecks, money orders, insurance payouts, stocks and dividends, retirement accounts, old safe deposit boxes, unused gift cards, rent or utility deposits – the list goes on and on. And it doesn't take long for money to become "lost": for example, in New Jersey, checks that aren't cashed for three years are presumed abandoned and the money is sent to the state for safekeeping.

But back to your problem. Apparently, the hold-up in New York had to do with the fact that the executor of your late father's will had died. (Your dad passed away more than 40 years ago.) We connected you with the folks at the New York State Comptroller's Office, and they were able verify your ownership of the funds and cut a check.

For the stock money, we started in New Jersey, since that's where you live. We contacted the New Jersey Treasury Department, and sure enough, the funds from these very old stocks were being held there. They guided you through their claims process.

Altogether, in about three weeks, you received a total of about $3,900 from both states.

All states have online search tools and applications for lost funds. In New York, the website is www.osc.state.ny.us; in New Jersey, it's www.unclaimedproperty.nj.gov.

For other states, go to www.unclaimed.org, the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. From there, you can click through to various state sites. (Note: There are private companies that will offer to recover your lost funds for a price – but we advise going straight to the states' official websites, where you won't face a potentially high finder's fee.)

Nikki Jones, spokesperson for New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, told us that on average, New York is returning about $1 million every day to its rightful owners. "While some claims are easily processed, others may be more complicated and require additional paperwork to confirm ownership," Jones said. "I encourage everyone to use our website or call our hotline number to search for and claim lost money. In this economy, every dollar counts."

To prevent this from happening again, here are some tips:

Keep your bank accounts active by making small deposits or withdrawals. Close accounts that you aren't using.

Cash all checks promptly.

Stay organized. Keep track of all your accounts, stock holdings, insurance policies, rent and utility deposits and safe deposit boxes.

If you move, be sure to notify all your financial institutions.

Prepare and file a will.

- The ABC News Fixer

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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