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Does Missouri owe you money? There's $1.1 billion in unclaimed property

A lot of people may not realize the state is holding onto money for them, and the average claim is $300.

SAINT LOUIS, Mo. — If you saw a dollar bill on the ground, would you pick it up? If you said yes, then this is a story for you. The state is sitting on a billion dollars of your hard-earned money, and most of the time you don't even realize you're owed.

Check to see the state treasurer's website to see if you're owed money

If you head to Jefferson City, there's a basement full of treasures not too far from the state capitol building. From baseball cards to coins and family heirlooms, a lot of unclaimed property comes from abandoned safe deposit boxes from across the state each year. 

"I love my job," said Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick. At least, he said, he loves returning unclaimed property, and it's not just property.

"Anytime you can give money to people they didn't even know they had, it's kind of like being Oprah. 'You've got unclaimed property!'" said Fitzpatrick. "It can be a life-changing amount of money."

There's at least one case in Missouri that is $1 million. The treasurer's office is still trying to locate the owner of that payout.

Meanwhile, the state is sitting on $1.1 billion dollars of unclaimed money, typically collected in the same few ways: someone moves, someone dies or someone gets divorced. Sometimes it's a deposit to a utility that never made it back to the person. If you've changed your name, it's a good time to check to see if you've got unclaimed dollars. 

5 On Your Side requested to see the state's database. There are more than 9.5 million claims listed for the entire state of Missouri. In St. Louis City, people are owed more than $16.1 million in unclaimed property. At least 13 people in the city were owed at least a six-figure payout.

We ran a search and tried to contact the people with the biggest payouts. We talked to one woman who was supposed to get paid out roughly $300,000. She said she had tried to claim the money but couldn't because she wasn't technically listed as the beneficiary on the will. When we went to the treasurer's office, we found out the woman was right. Incidents like this make it harder for the treasurer's office to locate the real people owed money.

We discovered St. Louis celebrity chef Qui Tran had several claims in the system. We notified Tran, of Nudo House and Mai Lee, and asked if he was up for getting free money.

When asked if he ever picks up change on the ground, Tran laughed, "Yes, even if I see a penny on the ground!" 

Tran said he likes to give his found pocket change to people on the street. 

Overall, we found 32 claims for Tran on the state's website. Some were less than a dollar, but many were above $50. The state will not publish the exact amount once it gets to $50. 

Some of the claims included addresses where Tran had lived and others included his former office space. It wasn't life-changing money, but we uncovered a little less than $500 between his personal name and business ventures.

"You're like Oprah, Michelle," he quipped. "You get money, you get money! Everybody gets money!"

Tran said he had heard of unclaimed property before but had never considered looking to see if he had any money. 

"People think 'I don't have unclaimed property. There's no way I have it.'" Fitzpatrick said. "The whole point of unclaimed property is you don't know you have it or else it wouldn't be unclaimed."

Either way, Tran said it's money that will help pay his bills. On the day we interviewed him, his restaurants were closed because of a St. Louis snowstorm. On top of inclement weather, restaurants have faced many challenges during the pandemic, especially ones that are owned and operated by Asian Americans. 

"It's like finding an old scratchers ticket that you never claimed. Holy cow!" said Tran. 

It's very easy to see if you have unclaimed property. The state collects about $100,000 a year and returns about half that money. What's uncollected goes to the general fund for the state, though by law, the general fund would pay back the treasurer's office if more money was claimed.

If you are ever asked to pay money to see if you have unclaimed property, you should know that is not authorized by the state and could be a scam. This is a free service to return money you're owed. It shouldn't cost you to do the search or release the money -- it is 100 percent free. 

Editor's note: Michelle Li is the founder of the Very Asian Foundation. Qui Tran has been an advocate and financial supporter of the foundation. Tran's restaurants, Mai Lee and Nudo House, are fundraising for the Very Asian Foundation.

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