The quest for buried treasure

Forgotten accounts hold millions of dollars in unclaimed cash.

Forgotten accounts hold millions of dollars in unclaimed cash.

Yacht rigger and sailing trainer Tony Dillon has moved about a bit, so he wasn't surprised to learn there was money in two bank accounts he'd lost track of over the years.

He'd closed the accounts when he moved to Hamilton Island in 2001 but some last-minute payments had bumped them up again to a handy amount of about $3000.

Back in Sydney, he received a call from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission last year saying it believed he was the rightful owner of some "unclaimed money".

All he had to do was prove the accounts were his and within 10 days a cheque would be in the mail.

He found a 1999 tax return - which he is pleased he kept - displaying the address that was on the bank accounts, then he lodged his claim with that and another proof identity.

As promised, he was paid within 10 days. But it was in one hand and out the other: he used the windfall to pay a tax bill. ASIC says its database of unclaimed money - in bank accounts, shares and life insurance policies - rose $40 million in the past year and now stands at a record $677 million.

That includes the nearly $1 million sitting unclaimed in a dormant bank account we told you about last year.

The owner gave an address in the Perth suburb of Carlisle when they opened the account but ASIC hasn't been able to track them down.

In the upmarket NSW suburb of Double Bay, $811,375 is awaiting someone. In the less-wealthy suburb of Matraville, $642,301 is available from a deceased estate.

In Melbourne, $718,151 is going begging. It relates to a trust's shareholding in AWB Ltd, the grains marketing group that was sold to a Canadian company.

NSW has the most parcels of unclaimed money - nearly 550,000 totalling $271.2 million. Victoria follows with 196,879 totalling $142.5 million.

Nationally, the average parcel of money is $671, while in NSW it's $591 and in Victoria it's $724. WA has the highest average at $791 - boosted by that $1 million account.

The 6 per cent increase in unclaimed money over the past year makes it worth checking the ASIC database again even if you've done it before. It can be searched via the MoneySmart website ( -resources/find-unclaimed-money).

All you need to do is type in your name. If you're the executor of a deceased estate, it's also 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 involved then registers the money with ASIC.

It is held on trust for as long it takes to find the owner. Some parcels have been held for decades.

Superannuation money that becomes separated from its owner is administered separately by the Australian Taxation Office, which has a search service at

Key points

- Generally, money is deemed unclaimed after seven years.

- Sums of up to $1 million await their rightful owners.

- Nationally, the average sum available is $671.

- Last year, Australians were reunited with $56 million.

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