1 in 10 Pennsylvanians have unclaimed property or cash; how you can collect yours

The state is holding millions of lost or forgotten items that belong to western Pennsylvania residents, and most of the unclaimed property is cash.

The largest operating vault in the country is housed inside a basement in the capitol complex in Harrisburg. It is a massive lost and found of sorts.

The Pennsylvania Treasury uses the vault to house unclaimed property. There are several rooms full of artifacts, military decorations, personal mementos and jewelry, ranging from diamond rings to vintage opera glasses and a cello.

Lori Hetrick is the vault division manager. It is her job to keep all of the items organized and to find the people the items belong to.

“Here’s a letter that was signed by Albert Einstein,” she says during a tour of the vault. “Now the treasury department doesn’t accept weapons. However, we’ll accept antique firearms. So here we have a couple of different varieties of antique firearms.”

She also pointed out a 1947 ration check for sugar, correspondence from the White House and military decorations, including five Purple Hearts.

“There’s a lot of history in here,” said Channel 11 anchor Jatara McGee.

“There is a lot of history in here,” Hetrick said. “This is the most sentimental, emotional experience you can have.”

Hetrick said many of the items in the vault were left behind in safety deposit boxes or were stolen and later recovered by police who could not find the owners.

Staff work to track down the original owners of the items or surviving family members.

“Thus far we’ve returned 711 military decorations to veterans and their families,” Hetrick said. “We like to say there’s a lot of detective work that goes into this.”

State Treasurer Stacy Garrity’s Administration said it has returned 10 Purple Hearts to veterans’ families. Five more are waiting in the vault.

Hetrick said technology has made it easier to track down family members, but they do not always hear back from them.

“There are definitely people in your viewing area, and we have not heard back from them, so maybe they’ll see this piece and call us back,” she said.

In Allegheny County, there’s $374.4 million available to residents. If a check never reached the correct address, money was left in an old bank account or abandoned savings account or old stocks and bonds were forgotten about, the funds are handed over to the state treasury department.

There’s more than $55 million available to Westmoreland County residents, more than $35 million available to Washington County residents, more than $25 million available to Beaver County residents, and over $23 million available to Butler County residents.

Checking if you have unclaimed property only takes a few minutes. Visit the treasury department’s website, type your information, and click search. Be sure to check any variations of your name, like a married and maiden last name.

Treasurer Garrity, a veteran, said she enjoys returning military decorations most. Last year, her administration held a ceremony at the Lower Burrell VFW to return a Bronze Star to the family of Frank Musto, a World War II army veteran.

“It brought me to tears, because they brought his uniform in a shadow box, and they had all of his ribbons and decorations except for that Bronze Star,” Garrity said. “Every decoration is a piece of somebody’s story… A story about the sacrifice they or their family made.”

Garrity encourages people to take a few minutes to check the database and see if they are owed unclaimed money or property.

Physical items are auctioned off after three years, excluding military decorations. The proceeds of the sale are credited to a person’s account, available until they claim it.

“Most people don’t know that they have unclaimed property, but like you said Jatara, one out of 10 Pennsylvanians do,” she said. “People will pop out their phone, and they’ll check right on their phone and they’ll be like, ‘You’re right! I have unclaimed property!’”

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