Well. That certainly got your attention, didn't it?

I know what you're saying. "Riley, I'd like to have billions of dollars. How can I get some?"

I'm glad you asked. According to a piece by Gerri Detweiler at Yahoo Finance,

Admittedly it sounds fishy: you may be a few clicks away from no-strings-attached cash. But it’s no scam. The fact is that states are holding onto literally billions of dollars in unclaimed property that belongs to people all over the country – and some of that could be yours.

Like most people, the "no strings attached" part is the part that makes me suspicious. However, this is on the up-and-up. For those of us in Illinois, our state comes in at number 7 on this list:

Top 10 States Holding the Highest Value in Unpaid Claims

  1. New York: $12 billion
  2. California: $6.1 billion
  3. Texas: $2.2 billion
  4. Pennsylvania: $1.9 billion
  5. Michigan: $1.55 billion
  6. Ohio: $1.53 billion
  7. Illinois: $1.5 billion
  8. Florida: $1.2 billion
  9. North Carolina: $1.14 billion
  10. Virginia: $1.1 billion

(Source: National Association of State Treasurers (NAST) 2012 Unclaimed Property Survey)

So, how much cash could you lay your hands on?

It depends, of course, but of the $2.25 billion returned as a result of state unclaimed property program efforts in 2012, the average claim was $892 according to NAST.

Okay, so maybe there aren't billions of dollars waiting for you personally, but $892 is nothing to sneer at. If you're wondering where all this money came from, it comes from a wide variety of sources. Here are the top ten:

  1. Savings or checking accounts
  2. Uncashed dividends or payroll checks
  3. Stock certificates or accounts, bonds, mutual fund accounts
  4. Insurance payments or refunds
  5. Utility/security deposits
  6. Travelers checks
  7. Unredeemed money orders or gift certificates (in some states)
  8. Life insurance policies
  9. Contents of safe deposit boxes
  10. Misplaced pensions, retirement money and lost 401(k)s

This is all money the rightful owner either forgot about, or in the case of an inheritance or insurance policy beneficiary, may not even know about. If you find a match, you may even be owed interest on those funds, depending on the type of property and the rules in your state.

As mentioned above, the average payout is around $900. However, some have hit a bigger jackpot.

Some of the biggest claims have been more than $1 million. For example, here is a list of the top 10 single highest claims ever paid by state:

  1. North Carolina: $12,421,645
  2. Missouri: $6.1 million
  3. Texas: $4.3 million
  4. New York: $4 million
  5. Florida: $3.9 million
  6. California: $3.5 million
  7. Wisconsin: $3,190,128
  8. Arizona: $2.4 million
  9. New Jersey: $2.3 million
  10. Pennsylvania: $2,117,816

Okay, then. I'm ready to get started. If you're feeling the same way, here's what you should do:

Find out if you have unclaimed property coming to you by searching MissingMoney.com. It’s completely free, and there is no fee to search for your property. (Avoid anyone who tries to charge you a finder’s fee for this service.) If you find a match, you will be given instructions for filing a claim. Twenty-three states accept claims electronically, while seven states offer a completely paperless claim process.

And if you’ve searched before, or if you have only searched your state treasurer’s website, it doesn’t hurt to try again. New property is being added all the time, and because it covers multiple states, something may turn up in another state.

Good luck and good hunting. If you happen to have a giant windfall, remember where you heard about it...and I'm happy with ten percent.