Victims of Sandy could be entitled to billions of dollars in unclaimed funds held by the New York State Comptroller’s office, according to an I-Team analysis.
The money is managed as part of the state’s Office of Unclaimed Funds, and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is making a public push in Sandy's aftermath to reunite as much of the cash with flood victims as possible.
“If it’s a couple hundred dollars or if it’s more, it could make a big difference to families,” said DiNapoli. “At a time when you’re rebuilding and between insurance and government help, you’re not sure what you’re going to have… we want to let people know that they should search our system and see if you have an account there.“
At the I-Team’s request, DiNapoli’s office provided databases of unclaimed accounts associated with addresses in zip codes that suffered the worst storm damage on Staten Island and Long Island, and in Brooklyn and Queens. In aggregate, the analysis showed nearly $3 billion tied to areas hit hard by Sandy.
In the storm-struck communities on Staten Island alone, the state has $51 million in unclaimed property accounts.
For coastal areas of Brooklyn, that figure is $472 million.
The worst-hit areas of Nassau and Suffolk counties had a combined total of more than $416 million in unclaimed accounts.
The I-Team called people who are on the list and visited homes in waterlogged neighborhoods, tracking down some of the owners of the unclaimed money.
Charles Boylan, a schoolteacher and father of three whose Staten Island home suffered roof damage during the storm, had no idea the state was holding more than $1,100 of his money.
“That will help me to do some of the repairs,” said Boylan. “We do know a family that lives in Midland Beach and we’re going to try to help them out and make their Christmas nice too.”
The state is also holding about $15,000 that belonged to Hugo Lauer, said his grandson, Richard.
Hugo Lauer died several years ago.
Richard Lauer lost a motorcycle and two cars in the storm and suffered some damage to his basement.
He said he has run into trouble proving he is the proper heir to the cash, but it would go a long way to help restore his home.
The funds held by the state come from a variety of sources like unclaimed inheritances, closed bank accounts, tax refund checks that were never cashed, or life insurance policies where the beneficiary could not be located.
Under the law, the unclaimed money must be turned over to the state, which then attempts to find the rightful owners.
Account values can range from a couple dollars up to -- in a few cases -- more than $1 million.
If you would like to find out if the state is holding onto money that belongs to you, check the comptroller's web site. Be sure to try variations of your name, as one reason some money remains unclaimed may be due to misspellings or data entry errors.
“I always say, not only put in your name but if you have a business, put in a business name. If you are part of a not-for-profit, a union group, a church group, a synagogue group, put in that name,” DiNapoli said. “You may need more documentation to prove your connection to the account, but we can in fact bring money back to a family even if it comes from an account of a deceased relative.”