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Undiscovered treasure in Mississippi

Some stories to tell about other folks who now, more than ever, need to find a little lost money.

Hurricane Katrina was among the most destructive storms ever to hit U.S. shores. More a thousand people died, and at least 800,000 were left homeless. The Gulf Coast from Mississippi to Louisiana was left in shambles.

It’s hard to believe there could be much good news after this, but we’ve found a silver lining... actually, for some people, a whole lot of gold. 

Best of all, Dateline was one of the ones who get to deliver the good news in person.

It’s something Dateline has shared with you before, a wonderful little secret called “unclaimed property.” It could be an old paycheck, a stock note, or inheritance that’s owed to you.  When no one claims these valuables, they’re eventually turned over to a state, where they may languish for years. 

Below are some stories to tell about other folks who now, more than ever, need to find a little lost money. Also, Dateline shows how you may be able to find that forgotten treasure on your own. 

Welcome to Biloxi
Mississippi’s treasury department has set up temporary shop in a courthouse to try to find people who have unclaimed property coming to them. It took just a few clicks to find this one man’s $400, and another $670 for another man who never received a payout from an old insurance claim.

Another man just learned his late father had an investment account no one in the family knew about. His dad’s bank eventually turned the money over to the state. He had no idea there was $30,000 just sitting in state coffers.

In Mississippi, one in every four people has money waiting for them—that’s a lot of people who aren’t checking. So armed with the state’s list of names, addresses, and amounts owed, we went door-to-door—a sort of sweepstakes a la Dateline. 

And so it went for two straight days; $250,000 for one couple who lost everything (including their floorboards); and $100,000 for a woman struggling to rebuild her and her mother’s homes.

And meet Gordon White: he may not be your typical Katrina victim. When the storm came in, he was in the process of building his dream home.  But because of the hurricane, he can’t get work crews to finish the job.  So his home is a trailer.

State treasurer Tate Reeves, who runs Mississippi’s unclaimed property division, joined Dateline to deliver the news to Gordon.

Tate Reeves, Mississippi state treasurer: We have for you 3,4 99 shares of Wachovia bank stock.Gordon White: How many shares?Reeves:  So this particular amount of stock is worth over $200,000—White: That will make me happy (laughter).

Like so many startled unclaimed property owners, Gordon’s windfall comes from his dad who kept a secret account. But to our surprise, he says he’s not going to use the fortune to finish building that house...

White: Most of it will go to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis— that’s where most of it will go.  That’s the way I do, help somebody who really needs help and those children are it.

Gordon White is not only a lucky guy, but a truly generous soul. 

And the odd thing is, these sudden fortunes may never have come to light had it not been for the catastrophe called Katrina. The state treasurer says the storm motivated him to start digging through the files to help people.  And that’s when the unclaimed property office found the most remarkable story of all...

From disabled vet to millionaire
Back in the 1970s, Jimmy was a regional supervisor for what was then a small Southern hardware chain named Lowes.  He started with the company as a kid , fresh from the battlefields of Vietnam.

But after about 14 years working at Lowe’s, he was battling serious depression.  The demons from his days in Vietnam were haunting him. 

Jimmy says post traumatic stress disorder forced him to quit his job and move back home to Georgia.

Fast forward 25 years. It turns out Jimmy had benefits coming to him from a Lowe’s employee stock program.  It’s been sitting in Mississippi’s state treasury for years—its value skyrocketing as Lowes has grown.

Jimmy’s headed back to Mississippi to claim his shares and personally met with Treasurer Reeves.

Reeves: It is my honor and privilege to present to you 14,480 shares of Lowe’s stock.Lea Thompson, Dateline correspondent: What’s it worth Mr. Treasurer?Reeves: It’s worth approximately $950,000 at close of business yesterday.

Jimmy Sparks, a short time ago, wasa veteran on disability. Today, he’s a millionaire. 

So does all this have you wondering if you have any long-lost money?  Keep in mind, most states don’t have the staff come out and find you.  But if it’s there, you can find it on your own.  All you have to do is log onto this (not Just pick a state you or any member of your family has ever worked in or played in, type in the name, and within seconds you can find out if this is your lucky day—and it is all absolutely free.

And don’t say “It could never happen to me.” Some states have billions of dollars to give away.  These people never dreamed there was money just waiting for them—that is, until the day “Dateline” came knocking on their doors.