Florida Unclaimed Property treasure hunt brings in $1.31 million for public schools

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Floridians always love a good treasure hunt. Last weekend, savvy bidders had an opportunity to help Florida’s schools by taking home some forgotten treasure.

Florida’s Unclaimed Property Auction, held last Saturday in Orlando, brought nearly $1.31 million to state coffers for public schools, according to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Of more than 60,000 items taken from abandoned safe deposit boxes around the state, the highest grossing item was a Cartier platinum and diamond watch selling for $24,000.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to locate the owners of unclaimed goods, the state Bureau of Unclaimed Property, a division of the Department of Financial Services, will then auction the items in the state’s annual treasure hunt. If property owners discover an item was auctioned, proceeds from the sale can be claimed any time at no cost.

“I am very proud of our Bureau of Unclaimed Property for organizing a successful auction that raised more than one million dollars to help Florida’s public schools,” Atwater said in a statement. “Our team’s tireless work to reunite Floridians with their money and property for the betterment of families, our economy and schools is tremendous.”

Since 2011, the DFS has paid 1.2 million claims, returning $804 million to Florida citizens and businesses. This amount represents 34 percent of all funds returned in the 53-year history of the program.

For anyone who has ever lived in Florida, there is a chance the state has unclaimed property for you. The Bureau retains abandoned accounts, currently valued at more than $1 billion. Most are from financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, securities and trust holdings.

In addition to money from closed accounts, the agency also is also responsible for keeping items like watches, jewelry, coins, currency, stamps, historical items and other miscellaneous articles whose owners either have died or simply forgot about them.

Unclaimed money, including the earnings from auctions, goes into the state school fund. Unless claimed, the money is used for public education.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.