Let’s say you take out a safety deposit box for precious family heirlooms, or create a bank account for your children that you don’t make transactions with regularly. How long would it take you to realize that the government has actually confiscated your property, sometimes without even informing you?

That’s what happened to Glenn Beck’s chief of staff, Joe Kerry, and countless other Americans across the United States, many of whom are unaware that the state can legally take hold of your possessions if your account shows no signs of activity for a certain period of time.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The law varies state-to-state, but according to a 2008 report by ABC News, the waiting period used to be in the range of 15 years, whereas it is now usually closer to three. Why has the government lowered the threshold in so many places?

From the 2008 ABC report: “The 50 U.S. states are holding more than $32 billion worth of unclaimed property that they’re supposed to safeguard for their citizens. But a ‘Good Morning America’ investigation found some states aggressively seize property that isn’t really unclaimed and then use the money — your money — to balance their budgets.” [Emphasis added]

The Australian government recently lowered its own threshold from seven years to three, and according to the Herald Sun, nearly $360 million was seized from from roughly 80,000 inactive accounts over the past year. That’s reportedly more than the Australian government seized in the past five decades combined.

ABC, which wrote that states return “less than a quarter of unclaimed property to the rightful owners,” explained how the law affected one woman:

San Francisco resident Carla Ruff’s safe-deposit box was drilled, seized, and turned over to the state of California, marked “owner unknown.”

“I was appalled,” Ruff said. “I felt violated.”

Unknown? Carla’s name was right on documents in the box at the Noe Valley Bank of America location. So was her address — a house about six blocks from the bank. Carla had a checking account at the bank, too — still does — and receives regular statements. Plus, she has receipts showing she’s the kind of person who paid her box rental fee. And yet, she says nobody ever notified her.

“They are zealously uncovering accounts that are not unclaimed,” Ruff said.

To make matters worse, Ruff discovered the loss when she went to her box to retrieve important paperwork she needed because her husband was dying. Those papers had been shredded.

And that’s not all. Her great-grandmother’s precious natural pearls and other jewelry had been auctioned off. They were sold for just $1,800, even though they were appraised for $82,500. [Emphasis added]

Beck said he was talking about the situation in Australia — unaware that the United States has similar laws — when Kerry said the same thing happened to him.

“I guess it was six months ago,” Kerry explained on Beck’s radio program. “[My wife, Melinda] was like, ‘Joe, we stopped getting the statements on this one account.’ And first she wanted to know if I liquidated the account. I assured her I had not. She’s like, ‘What happened?’ She started going through the statements, and on one statement, which was full of language, one sentence in one paragraph of that statement said, ‘If you have no activity on this account, we will close out this account…’”

Kerry, an attorney, said he didn’t understand how the account was considered dormant when dividends were paid into it, and they were paying taxes on the money the whole time.

“Never called you or notified you?” Beck asked.

“Nothing from the state,” Kerry responded.

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Kerry said he and his wife even went to their state senator about the matter, asking why they were never informed that the funds were set to be confiscated when all of their contact information was accurate.

Kerry said they received an answer along the lines of: “Well, under this new law … you don’t log into this account in a six month period, that money is transferred to the state.”

Kerry said he eventually received confirmation that the money was transferred to the state, but that the state didn’t even seem aware of how much it had confiscated.

“Our state senator is calling the, I guess, Department of Treasury at the Pennsylvania level, and they could not tell us where that money was, how much was taken, and how we would get it back,” Kerry remarked.

He said they were eventually able to figure out how much had been taken by looking at old statements, and were astonished when they found that the same thing had happened to a number of their neighbors.

“I talked to Melinda today,” Kerry concluded. “As of two weeks ago, the state of Pennsylvania has now started sending this money back.”

Beck was stunned that the American government can confiscate private property in such a way, saying “this is such a dangerous thing.”

“It’s a shark bump,” Beck concluded. “If they can do this, they can do anything.”

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