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Exclusive: Georgia does little to connect people with unclaimed property

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ATLANTA (CBS46) -

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller trots out "Buck the Money Dog" to help spread the word about unclaimed property.

In Colorado, state treasurer Walker Stapleton starred in a slick video to raise awareness about the millions of dollars his office holds that belongs to current and former Coloradoans.

"We really try to go above and beyond to get [unclaimed property] to the rightful owner," said Nick Genesi, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Revenue, which is the custodian for unclaimed property in Georgia.

But a CBS46 investigation found Georgia's efforts to increase the public's awareness of forgotten funds fails in comparison to those of other states.

Georgia's Department of Revenue hasn't posted a news release on the topic in seven years. It doesn't use social media and, unlike many other states, doesn't post a list of names in newspapers. In fact, Genesi initially blocked efforts by CBS46 News to obtain the list and cooperate with a story about unclaimed property held by the DOR.

"[Georgia's DOR] doesn't make as much of a proactive effort as some of the other states," said Kimberly DeCarrera, an attorney with Barganier and Associates, who specializes in unclaimed property.

Unclaimed property consists of possessions found in abandoned safe deposit boxes, stocks, life insurance payouts, uncashed paychecks and pension funds whose owners or heirs couldn't be found. By law, companies are required to turn unclaimed property over to the Department of Revenue to hold until the owner can be found.

When CBS46 investigative reporter Jeff Chirico asked Genesi if connecting Georgians with their forgotten funds isn't a priority for Revenue Commissioner Douglas MacGinnitie, Genesi replied, "It's a priority. We returned over $16 million in unclaimed property to Georgians last year alone."

That amount represented about 10 percent of the $153 million held by the DOR in 2013.

So what happens to the uncollected money? Genesi said it is placed in the state's general fund for lawmakers to use for various government programs until it is collected by the owner or heir. Some say that leaves state leaders with little incentive to spread the word about the uncollected property.

Legislatures in some states have passed laws requiring the agency holding unclaimed property to publish lists of owners' names in local newspapers. Georgia has no such requirement.

CBS46 learned some states have budgets to advertise unclaimed property to their citizens. Pennsylvania spent $1.3 million in 2013 while North Carolina used a more modest $40,000. Georgia didn't spend a dime on outreach last year.

Republican State Sen. Charlie Bethel, of Dalton, who sits on the Government Oversight Committee, said he wouldn't support using taxpayer money to advertise the funds Georgia lawmakers are using.

"Certainly, if we're talking about improvements to the DOR's website, using social media, I think those are appropriate outreach measures," said Bethel who promised to discuss possible no-and low-cost outreach improvements with DOR officials.

Some states show there are ways to be consumer-friendly and fiscally conservative. In Colorado, the video starring Republican treasurer Stapleton included text that touted "This is a public service. No taxpayer dollars were used."

To see if you have unclaimed property in Georgia, visit the Department of Revenue website.

To search for unclaimed property in other states, visit MissingMoney.com.

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