TikTok Trend Spurs Record-Breaking Numbers of Virginians to Cash Out Unclaimed Property

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

By Meghan McIntire, Virginia Mercury

April 20, 2023

‘You don’t typically come across a government agency that’s trying to give money away’

by Meghan McIntyre, Virginia Mercury

A TikTok trend of people cashing out unclaimed property held by state governments is helping break records in Virginia’s Treasury Department and fill the pockets of Virginians with money they’re rightfully owed. 

Bradley Earl, director of the Unclaimed Property Division at the Virginia Treasury Department, said the agency’s “claims numbers jumped last week, and I think it’s directly as a result of TikTok.”

This jump in claims correlates with an April 13 spike in Google searches nationwide and in Virginia for “unclaimed property.” 

Earl said the process of obtaining unclaimed money from sources such as inactive or dormant bank and investment accounts or uncashed payroll checks has never been more popular – or easier. 

A new platform on the department’s website launched last August allows residents to search their names, file claims for property they believe is owed to them and potentially receive a check for it ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred thousand within 10 days. 

Unclaimed property is “a consumer protection program that essentially safeguards funds that belong to individuals that are being held by companies or entities of that nature,” Earl said.

The department has already paid out over $46 million for the more than 50,000 claims it’s received so far this fiscal year, Earl said, which is more than double the amount of the claims submitted during the entire 2022 fiscal year. He attributes the record-breaking increase to the decision to switch from a 100% paper-based claims system to the current online program combined with increased awareness from social media.

“It’s unique,” said Earl. “You don’t typically come across a government agency that’s trying to give money away.” 

Filing a claim doesn’t always automatically result in quick access to funds, Earl said. In some instances, he said the department needs more detailed information like identification documents or verification of homeownership to process claims and spot fraud. Unclaimed property for deceased relatives can also be claimed by individuals by submitting official documents like death certificates, probated wills or a list of heirs, depending on the circumstance. That process could take around six weeks, especially for larger amounts of money.

“The new platform has been immensely popular, so we’re a victim of our own success here,” Earl said. 

Another success Earl cited is companies being more thorough in reporting unclaimed property, which adds to the “millions upon millions” currently in the state’s account. Every single dollar can’t be reunited with its rightful owner because some people move out of state or pass away, which is why Earl said a portion of this money is legally mandated to go into the state’s Literary Fund. 

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