Unclaimed property auction attracts buyers

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COLUMBIA - The Missouri Treasurer's office will hold its annual unclaimed property auction Thursday and Friday.

The items come from safety deposit boxes. After 5 years of inactivity or no contact from the owner, the boxes are turned over to the state. Director of the Unclaimed Property division said the department does not just do away with the items automatically. 

"Everything here that we have, we have advertised in the paper to try to find the owners. We've sent postcards to the last known address," Scott Harper said. 

Mike Garrity drove from St. Louis for his first time at the auction. During the trip, he said he thought about the circumstances behind the items.  

"Either they're the remnants that are left over or the family just hasn't taken the time to look at what's there. So, their loss, our gain," Garrity said. 

Harper said most things go unclaimed because of life changes. 

"It could be divorce, it could be death, moving and forgetting about the safety deposit box," he said. 

Garrity said he is a reseller. He said he likes to temporarily collect things that are easy to ship like paper, historic documents and stamps. He said he typically buys at auctions or estate sales in St. Louis, researches the items' histories and sells them again in 2 to 3 weeks. 

He said he came to the auction to try his luck based on the online item descriptions. 

"A lot of times, buyers like myself seek out the vague or the anonymous because it might turn out to be something worth quite a bit of money," Garrity said. 

Jo Ann Harris and her husband travel 6 hours to be at the auction every year. They make the trip from Murray, Kentucky. 

"It's a lot of fun," she said. "You don't know what you're going to get or get into till you get here." 

Harris said she has seen some interesting items at the auction in previous years.

"Somebody had a can opener in their lock box. It meant something to them," she said. 

Harris said she comes for the jewelry. 

"Sometimes you can find a diamond in the rough, sometimes you don't find anything, sometimes you can afford it, sometimes you can't," she said. 

Harris and her husband are self-proclaimed "auction people." Missouri is not the only state they visit for annual auctions. Harris said the Missouri auction is well-organized and well-done. She said the workers and auctioneers are friendly and helpful. 

Harris said she has gotten a variety of jewelry to add to her collection from the annual sale. 

"You get them at really good prices, for the most part. Sometimes there's a bidding war and then things really go sky high. That's good for the state, but not good for the buyer," she said. 

Harper said there is an advantage for the state to continue the Unclaimed Property program. 

"The state gets to use these funds until those owners come forward," he said. "So if that owner or their heirs come forward 50 years from now, that money's going to be there for those people to claim."

Harper said, last year, the department set a record of returned property. 

"I really believe in the program," he said. "I feel good about what I do when I go to work, getting money back to people."

He said the majority of unclaimed property is made of financial assets like stocks, life insurance and un-cashed checks. 

Harper said one in every 10 Missourians has unclaimed property they may not know about. He suggests searching on ShowMeMoney.com to see if you or your relatives have money waiting for you. 

"We want to get it back to the rightful owner," Harper said. 

Once items from safety deposit boxes are auctioned off, they cannot be returned. Owners can receive the dollar amount they brought at the sale. 

Garrity searched for himself on the website and claimed his own property after his parents passed away.

"You sort of feel like it's part of your family. So even if it's not very much money, it's worth going and getting off the dockets, because it is a part of your emotional past," he said. 

The auction starts at 9:00 a.m. both Thursday and Saturday at the Hilton Garden Inn Conference Center. 

Buyers can preview items any time before they go up for sale.