your connection to The Boston Globe

Millions go lost or unclaimed in Vermont

Banks and state attempt to find rightful owners

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Roughly 200,000 Vermonters are owed $10 million in lost bank accounts, unclaimed checks, and other assets from last fiscal year.

Banks and insurance companies are required to give the money to the state if they cannot find its owner. The law is aimed at helping the consumer by making it easier for people to find lost assets.

The largest payout this year -- $109,000 -- went to an elderly woman for an inactive bank account.

Noticing the amount, State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding called the woman, who had apparently ignored letters from the bank.

But other recipients do not get calls from the treasurer.

A Barre man who had a hard time finding money from an old account in 1980, Wallace Nolen, said the state and banks are not doing enough to locate the owners.

The list of current and former Vermont residents, businesses, and entities with unclaimed assets includes state Senate President Peter Shumlin, members of the rock band Phish, and others whose names are in the phone book.

"Any dum-dum can look in the phone book or go on the Internet and find these people," Nolen said.

A federal appeals court ruled that California's effort to return unclaimed funds was insufficient.

Nolen contends that Vermont's program is as insufficient, and keeping the money for the state is a powerful incentive not to locate its owners.

Lists could be posted in more locations and official mailings sent to people before and after their money goes to the state, he said.

However, Spaulding said the state spends $100,000 a year -- more than California -- on newspaper and television ads and other ways to notify the public about unclaimed property.

Banks are required to send a letter to the last known address before they turn over the money to the state. Some people do not read the letter and others never see it, having moved without leaving a forwarding address.

"I think the banks have done their due diligence," said Chris D'Elia of the Vermont Bankers Association. The state also has stepped up its methods, he said.