HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — An unclaimed property watchdog says the state is making it difficult to get small amounts of money off the Big List.

State Treasurer Shawn Wooden says that is simply not true.

There is nearly $1 billion in unclaimed property sitting on that list. It gets there when businesses or banks that hold assets cannot find owners and turn over the cash to the state.

One year ago, the state treasurer launched a new Big List website to make it easier for people to get their cash.

Officials report a 32% increase in the number of claims. 

“That’s tremendous,” Wooden said. “That’s what we want, we want to reconnect people with their money.”

How does it work?

You log onto the site, put in your name or business and click search. Advance the screens, fill out the boxes, upload documents, verify you are who you are and get the claim number.

Maria Greenslade, assistant treasurer for the unclaimed property division, suggests, “You would want to write down [the] claim number. Then look for the claim number in an email and check the status of [the] claim in a few weeks.”

Ron Lizzi, a self-proclaimed watchdog of unclaimed property, says the state should do more.

“If the state has money belonging to you and it knows that and it knows your current address because you pay taxes, or you register to vote, it should simply send you a check,” Lizzi said.

Wooden told News 8 he is aware other states like Rhode Island handle it differently.

Connecticut law puts the onus on the people and only requires amounts more than $50 to be reported on the Big List — see Sec. 3-66a on that page. Wooden says that’s 99% of claims.

“It’s less than 1% where there’s that gap, but anyone can call that 1-800 number,” Wooden said.

Lizzi said not everyone scrolls the website for the 1-800 number. He said the state is hiding $50 million in cash.

“I could say to you, ‘I returned two wallets I found last year.’ Do I sound like a good guy? Maybe I do, but what if I found five? Now I’m a crook,” Lizzi said.

Wooden said Connecticut is ranked 2nd in the nation for returns of unclaimed property by the National Unclaimed Property Administration Association that tracks it.

The unclaimed money that goes into the state general fund can be used by politicians, including the treasurer for a Citizen’s Election grant.

Wooden told News 8, “I support using it for public good temporarily while we’re trying to connect it with rightful owners.”

Is it a conflict of interest?

“The notion that, that is a conflict of interest… I as treasurer and no one in my office decides how this money is used,” Wooden said.

Lizzi plans to testify before the legislature’s General Election Administration Committee. He is asking for a number of reforms, including giving the treasurer access to government data so he can proactively find unclaimed property owners and a website disclaimer about those smaller amounts.

Lizzi summed it up like this: “Since when do people not want their money?”

Only the legislature can change the law. Wooden told News 8 the one thing he will ask lawmakers for: more people to help process claims.

They did pay out $32 million to one person, which was highly unusual. A divorce settlement. The wife left a stock certificate in a desk drawer.

News 8’s Jodi Latina remarked, “that’s quite a piece of paper to forget about!”

Greenslade responded, “I thought so too!”

For any amount of unclaimed property, you can call 1 (800) 833-7318 Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. For unclaimed property under $50, click here.