Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Meet Your Escheator: South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis M. Loftis, Jr.

Welcome to the second installment of Escheatable's "Meet Your Escheator" feature, where we provide interviews and commentary by state unclaimed property officials.  This time, we are thrilled to have South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis M. Loftis, Jr.  Treasurer Loftis took over South Carolina's "Palmetto Payback" unclaimed property program earlier this year and is also responsible for the state government's finances, as well as South Carolina's state 529 plans.  The Palmetto Payback website provides a wealth of information about the program, including FAQs for both owners and holders.  South Carolina has also embraced social media, providing information on Facebook, on Twitter (@TreasurerLoftis) and by participating in interviews with world-class unclaimed property blogs :)  We are grateful for the Treasurer's time and efforts to provide this information. 

1.   By way of introduction, can you give us an overview of your background prior to becoming State Treasurer?  Did you have any experience or involvement with unclaimed property and/or escheat laws prior to that time? 
Treasurer Loftis:  I spent 20 years in private business, owning and operating a pest control business. After retiring from operating the company (I still own a majority share) I dedicated myself to charity work, establishing the Saluda Charitable Foundation. I then went onto start my career in public service in 2007, serving as the  Director of The Office on Aging. I was able to reduce the organizational budget by 23%–allowing these funds to be re-directed to services for seniors. My private business experience is a blessing when it comes to knowing the rules and regulations that businesses must follow when dealing with customers' accounts. But I rely on the guidance and expertise of our Unclaimed Property staff to deal with the numerous issues surrounding Unclaimed Property. 
 2.  Can you give us background statistics on how much money South Carolina is holding? How about the number of claims per year?
Treasurer Loftis:  The Palmetto Payback program is holding 1.5 million accounts totaling nearly $300 million dollars. For fiscal year 2011, the program paid 30,932 claims, returning more than $12.6 million dollars to the rightful owners. For perspective, in fiscal year 2010, the program paid 13,629 claims.
3.  What error do you see holders making the most? What would you like them to improve?

Treasurer Loftis:  It is my goal to reunite as many owners as possible with their unclaimed funds. To do so effectively, we need as much information about the owner the holder has available. Not providing information like the last known address, social security number, date of birth, etc. not only makes it harder for us to locate the owner, but it makes it more difficult for us to verify ownership when claims are presented. 

4.  Does your office perform or participate in unclaimed property audits? If so, how do you select the companies that get audited?
Treasurer Loftis:  My office offers an informal voluntarily compliance program allowing us to work collaboratively with first time filers to assist them in coming into compliance. At the present time we do not have an internal audit staff. We issued an RFP for audit services several months ago and have awarded contracts to those auditors that met our requirements. We hope to start working them soon. 
5.  South Carolina, like other states, often auctions safe deposit box items that are remitted to the Treasury.  What is the strangest (or best) thing that your office has received as unclaimed property?
Treasurer Loftis: I can’t speak for past State Treasurers, but some of the most unique items we were able to return happened shortly after I took office in January 2011. Our staff was able to work with a genealogist and help locate a relative of Union Civil War Soldier Ira Cory.  The documents included a muster roll and papers outlining several battles. Capt. Cory took part in the Battle of Gettysburg. Our office was able to return these priceless documents to Capt. Cory’s great-grandson who lives in Ohio.

6.  In the past several years, we've seen more interest among both holders and states with regard to IRAs, rebates, and gift cards. What areas do you think your office will focus upon most over the next few years?
Treasurer Loftis:  My office’s focus is in returning as much money as possible to the rightful owners, educating businesses as to their reporting obligations, and to assist holders to come into compliance.
 7.  Other than paying claims, is there any specific budgetary item for which unclaimed funds are used? (by way of explanation, in some states, unclaimed funds are used as general revenue, in others the funds are specifically earmarked for schools, highways, etc.).
 Treasurer Loftis:In South Carolina, until the rightful owner is located, the unclaimed funds are used by the legislature for purposes that benefit all South Carolinians. However, as with most states, the owner never loses his/her right to claim the funds. The funds will always be available to the rightful owner to claim.
 8.  What has been your biggest unclaimed property accomplishment as Treasurer?
Treasurer Loftis:  Our biggest accomplishment has been publicizing the Program in as many free media outlets as possible. We started with two TV news phone banks and have several other TV stations across the State also interested in sponsoring phone banks during their evening news broadcasts. We also use social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to publicize the Program early on. We have held back on seeking more free media publicity because the response was so overwhelming early on. But once the backlog gets manageable, we anticipate more uses of free media and more public appearances to remind people of the Program.
9.  What is the unclaimed property area where your office has the most work to do?
Treasurer Loftis:  Publicizing the program comes at a cost in personnel time. Large public response results in numerous claims to process. To meet the increased demands on the Program’s resources, we have added additional part time claims processing staff. We are also exploring ways to use technology to assist with the claims payment process. Within the next 6 months we anticipate launching an on-line claims program. Claims for which the claimant is the original owner--and we either have a social security number on the account or the owner is still living at the address as provided by the holder--will be processed electronically. Once the program is functional, many of our claimants will no longer have to send the claim forms by mail, which will reduce the number of claims the staff must process manually thus greatly expediting the payments to the rightful owners.
10.  If you could give one piece of unclaimed property advice to the owner community, what would it be?
Treasurer Loftis:  Make a sincere effort to find the missing owners BEFORE the funds are reportable to the State as unclaimed. It is so much easier to locate owners shortly after you realize they are “missing” than to wait 1 to 5 years to perform the required due diligence. For those accounts for which you were unable to locate the owner, providing the State with as much information as you have regarding the account and the owner will increase the likelihood the funds will be returned to the rightful owner.


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