Halifax software developer Stewart Rand wasn't expecting to find a treasure trove of information when he happened to glance at the Bank of Canada's website last year. What he discovered astounded him: there are millions of dollars just sitting there waiting to be claimed.
"I was stunned to read there were about 1.3 million unclaimed Canadian accounts out there that people had forgotten or lost somehow," Rand says of the balances that now total more than $465 million. "Sometimes people move and lose track of bank accounts, and sometimes people die and the money doesn't get distributed properly for whatever reason."
Where does the money come from?
If a bank account goes unused for two years, the bank has to get in touch with the account owner. This happens again after five and nine years. When there has been no owner activity in relation to the balance for a decade, and the owner cannot be contacted by the institution holding it, the balance is turned over to the Bank of Canada, which acts as custodian on behalf of the owner.
The Bank of Canada publishes all the accounts on its website. Rand didn't stumble upon any money that he or some distant relative had somehow lost track of himself, but he was fascinated nonetheless. He tried to dig a little deeper through some of the unclaimed accounts, only to find the Bank of Canada site itself hard to navigate. So he did something about it.
"I decided to build a better version," says Rand, who developed another website called LostCash.ca, which lists all of the central bank's unclaimed accounts information. The site is free, user-friendly, and designed to help reunite Canadians with lost money as efficiently as possible.
"There are hundreds of millions of dollars out there waiting to be claimed, and chances are that a piece of it belongs to someone you know," the enthusiastic Nova Scotian says. "I have personally found lost money for several relatives, and one of my friends recently found $4,000 belonging to an aunt."
Besides personal accounts, there are also balances belonging to businesses and community groups.
Take, for example, the Brampton Soccer Coaches Association's account valued at $30,357.01 that was last used in December 1998. Then there's a business account labelled Sernacon Holding Inc. worth $250,654.72.
What types of accounts are held?
Unclaimed money isn't necessarily sitting in the form of bank accounts. An unclaimed balance is any Canadian-dollar deposit or negotiable instrument issued or held by a federally regulated bank or trust company. It can be in the form of bank draft, certified cheque, money order, GIC, term deposit, credit card balance, or traveller's cheque.
Not included in the bank's unclaimed balances are accounts in foreign currencies, RRSPs, life-insurance policies, credit-union accounts, gold or silver certificates, safety deposit boxes, and stocks and dividends.
The Bank of Canada site allows for searches by entering your name or province. At LostCash.ca, you can also enter your, maiden name, address, city, and bank.
"It's a lot like a treasure hunt, and it's easy to get carried away sifting through all of it, trying to figure out the stories behind the money," Rand says. "You may want to check your family tree, too, for names of people who could have forgotten money."
How to claim your cash
To claim money, you have to provide personal documentation to the bank proving that the money is yours. Likewise, if you want to claim money originating from an estate, business, or other organization, you need to provide proof that you have a legal right to it.
The Bank of Canada website has a form people can fill out to reclaim money.
More than 93 percent of the unclaimed accounts total less than $1,000. In 2011, the Bank paid out $15.8 million to account holders. The oldest balance dates back to 1900.
If you're up for the challenge, don't limit your search to the Bank of Canada. The BC Unclaimed Property Society created by the Province of BC in 2003 and is administered by the Vancouver Foundation is one such source. People can also apply for unclaimed trust funds through the Law Society of British Columbia.
Revenu Québec has a register of unclaimed property as well.
Although the search for unclaimed money takes some effort, Rand says it's worth it.
"It's a treasure trove," he says. "You'll be surprised at how much unforgotten money is out there."