The State of Maryland holds billions of dollars of unclaimed property, and the state is required by law to try to get all of it back to its rightful owners. "People are always grateful when we return their property to them,” said Edward Wykowski, who is the assistant director of the Compliance Division, of the Maryland Office of the Comptroller. “We try to make the claims process as easy as possible.”
There's bank accounts, jewelry, real estate and much, much more. The WMAR-2 News "Hidden Treasures" segment is intended to help. Some of the most valuable “property” being held by the state, is in the form of forgotten bank accounts and retirement accounts.
“I think our largest properties that we are currently holding- there's an individual's property worth $3.5-million and there's a business property that's upwards of $900-thousand,” Wykowski said.
But there’s also smaller, more tangible items – much of them collected from safe-deposit boxes which end up being abandoned by their owners. When the bank can't find the owner for three years, the contents of the box get turned over to the state.
The Compliance Division then tries, again, to contact the owners; Wykowski said one of the most memorable items they successfully returned was a Baltimore Orioles 1983 World Series ring.
“We learned that the ring had belonged to someone in the ownership and group and had been inherited by his granddaughter. She moved, and I guess forgot about her safe deposit box so it was turned over to us. We contacted her and reunited her with her property,” Wykowski said.
But when the state can’t find the owner, it turns to another option – eBay.
“We usually sell 100 percent of what we list, said Breana Copeland, who is the eBay supervisor for the Maryland Office of the Comptroller. “Not very often do we have items that don't meet our requirements for sale. so, things are moving.”
When the owner of an item can’t be found, the item is appraised and listed through the comptroller’s account on the e-commerce site. About 20 items get sold every week.
Even when that happens, the state tries to get the proceeds back to the owner. If that person comes forward in the future, they won’t be able to get the item – but they will get the money.
“If you come forward and say, ‘Hey that was mine' or if you come forward and say, 'Hey I had a safe deposit box' we research and we'll see how much it was sold for and then we'll write you a check for the amount it was sold for,” Copeland said.
It is not a money-making operation for the state, and it is not intended to be. “When you have phone calls that are like, ‘Oh this belonged to my great-great-grandmother and thank you for returning it’ I think that's more beneficial than money going into the treasury,” Copeland said.
Since the inception of the unclaimed property program, the state has received property totaling $3.2-billion and has returned $1.2-billion. That leaves $2-billion worth of cash, real estate and merchandise still being held by the state of Maryland.
And the pandemic has not slowed down the process; the year 2021 has been the highest revenue year ever, with $246 million in unclaimed property received by the state.
“More often than not with the ID that you probably have in your pocket and some kind of proof of residence or other ID, you can get your property back no questions asked through our normal claims process,” Wykowski said.