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Limiting The Treasure Hunters: Florida Senate Passes Bill Tightening Regulations On Those Who Help Recover Unclaimed Property

Many Floridians may not know they have unclaimed property held by the government. 

From dormant bank accounts and uncashed checks, to the estates of deceased relatives, about $2 billion of unclaimed property assets are held by Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, according to the Department of Financial Services website. 

In a statement from the Office of CFO Jimmy Patronis, Press Secretary John O'Brien said since taking office in 2017, "the CFO has returned more than $1.2 billion in unclaimed property back to the pockets of Floridians." 

Individuals can search to see if they have unclaimed property through the Division of Financial Services, or hire a claimant's representative to help. 

Rep. Chuck Clemons recently sponsored House Bill 425 to tighten restrictions on the fees claimant’s representatives may charge to help individuals collect these assets. This “Disposition of Unclaimed Property” bill passed a unanimous vote in the Florida Senate Wednesday. 

Clemons said he pushed this bill forward as a consumer protection measure. 

“What my bill will do, is actually put a limit on the amount of fees that these agents can charge Florida residents for getting their own money back,” he said. 

HB 425 raises an amended 30% fee cap on the amount claimant’s representatives can charge and tightens the existing “full disclosure” exemption which effectively allows agencies to charge higher percentages. The bill also includes other provisions regulating the disposition of unclaimed property, like an increased threshold required to use a different identity verification method for electronic claims. 

Groups like the Claimant’s Representative Committee, Unclaimed Property Professionals Organization and Professional Claimants Representation Association represent firms that specialize in this work. 

Tom Allen, president of Estate Trust Asset Recovery, said his agency helps individuals locate and retrieve unclaimed property assets. 

“Our job is to try to notify people that they have funds available to them," Allen said, "and if they need help getting it we can provide the services that would verify their ownership and allow the unclaimed property — department of finance — to mail a check directly to those people."

Randy Hotz, president and CEO of Choice Plus LLC, said he’s been involved in the unclaimed property business for 22 years. 

“People hire us for the same reason they hire just about anybody else on the service side,” he said. “They’re either doing it because it’s convenient for them — they decide, 'I could probably do this myself but I’d rather pay somebody else to handle it for me' — or, they have a circumstance where either the cost or complexity of the circumstance leads them to need services beyond what the state can provide them.” 

Hotz said he is concerned measures like HB 425 may prevent some people from collecting their unclaimed assets because private companies with financial incentive may have the resources to dig deeper than the state. 

“My concerns are there are going to be people who are no longer going to be able to access the resources to recover their money because there is no longer an economic incentive for our industry to provide the service,” Hotz said. 

He said he believes potential abuses by claimant's representatives should be investigated by judges rather than lawmakers, and would support a more targeted approach. 

“What you do, is you try to make laws that address the abuse in a surgical way, and allow for the maximum amount of flexibility so the maximum amount of good can come out of the program,” he said. “But you’re not gonna engineer a program that’s gonna be completely perfect.” 

Clemons said most agents do good and honest work, but he wanted to create more uniform processes for claimant’s representatives and eradicate any potential abuse or fraud. 

The CFO's office also expressed support for the bill. In a statement from the Office of CFO Patronis, Press Secretary John O'Brien said "this legislation establishes strong consumer protections and the CFO is pleased this bill is now headed to the Governor.”

Valeriya is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.