The bell rang at the state's unclaimed property booth at the Maryland State Fair yesterday as Jeff Sweren of Columbia found money belonging to a member of his family.
"I found money for mom, two hundred bucks," he exclaimed as his wife, Deby, caught up with him.
Seconds later, staff members rang the bell again as Sweren had his late grandmother's name checked in the database. Her name came up for almost $700.
Sweren, 34, was one of many people who located lost cash or valuables for themselves or family members at the fair this week with the help of the state comptroller's office. Like most, he did not expect to find anything as he stepped up to the booth, but, tempted by tales of the small fortunes others had found, he thought he'd test his luck.
"I think I've checked before and never come up with anything," he said. "It's exciting. Before, I never thought to look up my family."
As of yesterday afternoon, 6,392 people had checked the databases. Of those, 460 -- nearly 1 out of 14 -- had found a total of $178,262 in unclaimed property.
On Wednesday, one individual made the largest find at the fair: more than $22,000 in unclaimed property. The average find at the fair this week has been about $400.
Businesses are required to report to the state unclaimed property, such as old bank accounts, stock dividends, security deposits, unpaid wages, insurance benefits and contents of safe deposit boxes, after five years, said Lynn Hall, manager of the comptroller's unclaimed property unit.
"People can come up and check by last name or Social Security number to see if they have any property out there for them or their family members," Hall said of the comptroller's booth at the fair.
The service is free and individuals are able to look up as many names as they want. If successful, they are given a printout of information about the property and instructions on how they or their family can obtain it from the state or the company that has been holding it.
"If it's held by [the state], you have to send in the documentation and you'll get a check from the state treasurer" if the property is money, Hall said. "It takes an average of about six weeks."
Kevin Gillespie, 50, of Columbia found $200 owed him from an old insurance policy. "I haven't lived at that address for over 10 years," Gillespie said as the computer pulled up his old address.
Gillespie said the money was a pleasant surprise. "I might just buy my wife a nice dinner with it," he said.
Maryland, like the other 49 states and the District of Columbia, has an office that collects information from companies on unclaimed assets. Hall warns that some businesses charge a fee to find unclaimed property. State governments provide the information free.
The comptroller's booth will be at the fair in Timonium from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily until Monday in the Exhibition Hall.
Year-round, individuals can call the 410-767-1700 or 800-782-7383 to check for unclaimed property. Property reported within the past two years is listed on the office's Web site at www.marylandtaxes.com. The office has records on 300,000 accounts worth more than $100 million.
Hall said the comptroller's office has been entering only amounts more than $100 into its database in recent years, but if someone knows they are owed an amount less than that, the office will research it. No statute of limitations applies to unclaimed property and money owed to deceased individuals can be claimed by their heirs.
Recently, Maryland joined with 39 states in the National Amnesty Program, which allows businesses to report unclaimed money to the state that they were supposed to report earlier without penalties or interest. This program will run until Dec. 31, Hall said.
Anne Allen, a retired teacher from Carroll County, said she did not locate money at the comptroller's booth.
"I didn't expect to find any, so that's OK," she said. "Treasure is where ever you find it."
Pub Date: 9/04/99