10.01.2008 0

Are Safe-Deposit Boxes Safe?

  • On: 10/08/2008 11:19:18
  • In: Government Transparency
  • Warning: If you keep anything valuable in a “safe”-deposit box, you may want to check to see if it is still there – and that is hasn’t been stolen by your state’s government in order to balance the budget.

    According to ABC News, states have been seizing billions of dollars of so-called “unclaimed” property that really was not unclaimed at all:

    “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.

    “Unclaimed property consists of things like forgotten apartment security deposits, uncashed dividend checks and safe-deposit boxes abandoned when an elderly relative dies.

    “Banks and other businesses are required to turn that property over to the state for safekeeping. The problem is that the states return less than a quarter of unclaimed property to the rightful owners.”

    The investigative report reveals that California is by far the most egregious “requisitioner” of private property, having pilfered over $5 billion. And legislators have repeatedly changed the state’s law over the years to expedite this sinister practice:

    “California law used to say property was unclaimed if the rightful owner had had no contact with the business for 15 years. But during various state budget crises, the waiting period was reduced to seven years, and then five, and then three. Legislators even tried for one year. Why? Because the state wanted to use that free money…

    “California became so addicted to spending people’s money, that, for years, it simply stopped sending notices to the rightful owners. ABC News obtained a 1996 internal memo in which the lawyer for the Bureau of Unclaimed Property argued against expanding programs to notify rightful owners. He wrote, ‘It could well result in additional claims of monies that would otherwise flow into the general fund.’”

    This is a perfect example of the mentality that governs the actions of those keeping the vaults of rapacious government: They actually believe that taxpayers’ money – indeed, their very property – rightly belongs to them. And they have no qualms about acquiring it – by any means necessary.

    Clearly, such state theft of personal property most certainly violates the 14th Amendment’s due process clause:

    “[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

    Without even notifying individuals that their property is being seized, the government deprives them of the opportunity to challenge the classification of their property as being “unclaimed”. As a result, one of the most basic, sacred obligations of constitutional, limited government – protecting property rights – has been sullied with the stain of Big Government’s sticky fingers.

    Fortunately, at least in California, one official is trying to right this terrible wrong:

    “California State Controller John Chiang, who inherited the situation when he came into office [said,] ‘What we’ve done here over the last two decades has been dead wrong. We’ve kept the property and not provided owners with the opportunities — the best opportunities — to get their property back.’

    Chiang now faces the daunting task of returning $5.1 billion worth of unclaimed property to people. Some states keep their unclaimed property in a special trust fund and only tap into the interest they earn on it. But California dumps the money into the general fund — and spends it.

    ‘It’s supposed to be segregated and protected,’ Palmer said. ‘California has taken all of that $5.1 billion and has used it as a massive loan.’”

    It is obviously laudable that this practice is coming to an end (at least in California), and that billions of dollars worth of property is about to be returned. But the fact that this went on for years is frankly appalling.

    Now, the residents of California – and elsewhere – who have kept anything valuable in a “safe”-deposit box need to check to make certain it hasn’t been melted, pawned, or otherwise confiscated by the state in its continuing effort to support its spending binge.

    In the meantime, for those looking for a truly safe alternative, ALG News is pleased to report that “Sleepy’s – the Mattress Professionals – will beat anyone’s price by a full 20 percent, or it’s free guaranteed.”

    ALG Perspective:
    The practice of going into safe-deposit boxes for revenue is one of the most abhorrent thefts that have ever been perpetrated by Big Government over the years. Clearly, states like California must re-evaluate policies of seizing property without any due process of law. And the rightful owners of the property which have been confiscated should be compensated – with accrued interest because this is just horrible.


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