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Fortunate sum

From huge amounts to small, a whopping $636 million is sitting unclaimed in accounts across Australia.

From huge amounts to small, a whopping $636 million is sitting unclaimed in accounts across Australia.

Mining boom or not, someone must want the nearly $1 million sitting unclaimed in a dormant bank account with the address given as the Perth suburb of Carlisle - a mid-priced but up-and-coming area near the city that, perhaps significantly, is down the road from Burswood Casino.

In Melbourne, $718,151 is going begging in relation to a shareholding in AWB Ltd, the grains marketing group sold last year to Canadian farm products business Agrium, while in the Sydney suburb of Matraville, $642,301 awaits the missing beneficiary of a deceased estate.

These are three of the largest sums among the record $636 million the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) revealed last week on its database of "unclaimed money".

The pool of unclaimed, non-superannuation money increased about $28 million over the past year, ASIC says, as a further 157,431 parcels of money were added to its database by banks, insurers, share registries and other financial institutions.

"The average parcel of money is $652 and there are some huge amounts of money waiting to be claimed," ASIC's senior executive leader for financial literacy, consumers, advisers and retail investors, Delia Rickard, says. NSW has the most parcels of money waiting to be found - more than 440,000 - with the $243.1 million total averaging out at $552 per parcel. Victoria has $134.3 million to be claimed, the average across 190,000 parcels higher at $706.

Western Australia has $49.3 million unclaimed but across 64,000 parcels it leads the nation with an average of $768 available for the rightful owners.

DECEASED ESTATE

If you're the executor of a deceased estate, it's a good idea to check the register. Money is generally deemed to be unclaimed after seven years - for example, when a bank account hasn't been touched, payments have stopped on a life-insurance policy or dividend cheques are returned to sender. The financial institution then registers the money as unclaimed with the ASIC.

The money is held on trust for as long as it takes to find the owners. Some parcels have been held for decades - four life insurance policies date back to 1952 and eight bank accounts to 1971.

With the $992,750 sitting unclaimed in Perth, the parcel was registered by the Commonwealth Bank in 2007, indicating the account was last used in 2000. The Matraville inheritance sum was registered by the CBA in 2008 and the AWB shareholding the same year, suggesting contact was lost with the owners in 2001.

ASIC makes its own attempts to reunite the money with its owners and returned $62 million in the past financial year. The largest amount was $1,964,980, sent back to Citigroup after a "lost" customer showed up again.

In one case, the regulator recently tracked down an elderly couple in southern Sydney who had more than $200,000 in unclaimed money from an old bank account. They hadn't made any deposits or withdrawals for seven years and didn't get round to responding to a letter sent by the bank before it registered the money as unclaimed.

"With other things happening in their life, the couple forgot about the bank's letter," an ASIC spokesman says. "The couple learnt about the unclaimed money when they were contacted by a private company that offered to reunite them with their money for a fee. They quickly realised they could reclaim their money through the bank, at no cost."

Melbourne investor Kirk Leonard was also contacted by such a service, and by the ASIC about the same time, about nearly $1000 he was entitled to following the takeover of Symbion Health.

"I'd moved house and I lost track of the [takeover] paperwork at the time," he says. "I was approached with a call from a collection agency, which actually required fees for the transfer. Then the letter came through from the ASIC and there weren't any fees involved."

To search the database see moneysmart .gov.au/tools-and-resources/find-unclaimed-money or phone 1300300 630.

To track down lost superannuation see ato.gov.au/superseeker.

Key points

- Money is deemed unclaimed generally after seven years.

- Individual sums of up to $1 million await the rightful owner.

- Nationally, the average sum available is $652.

- Some unclaimed money dates back to the 1950s.


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