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Money Wise--Free Money

Have you ever found a buck or two on the ground? If no one's around to claim it, you figure it's your lucky day. If you know where to look, you can find much more than that. You can be the owner of a treasure so secret even you know nothing about it.

Tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money sits unclaimed in government vaults. Some of that money may be yours, here's how to collect it.

Cynthia Beauvais' story is almost a fairy tale. "It was a wonderful blessing to receive the money," she said.

Her story starts in the 1980s, when her parents rented land to oil companies in Louisiana. "We were in the right place at the right time," she said. "Some people just missed it by feet."

But by the time her parents died in the '90s, the wells were drying up and the royalties had decreased. So, she was surprised to get a call from the Louisiana state treasurer a few years ago. "We had to prove documentation of who we were, that we were the heirs, and then he told us it was a large amount," she said.

More than $200,000, half belonging to Cynthia. One of those oil companies still owed money to Cynthia's parents. Unable to find a living relative, the company turned the money over to the state treasurer, who eventually tracked down Cynthia.

"The total in unclaimed money out there is about 22 billion, and there are some estimates that say one in eight Americans have some kind of pot of gold waiting for them," said Walecia Konrad, money editor for Good Housekeeping.

While your pot of gold may not be as big as Cynthia's, Good Housekeeping says it's still worth checking out. At a mall in New Orleans, Louisiana officials try to reunite people with their valuables. The property can come from a closed bank account. Banks turn over the unclaimed property to the state treasurer.

"All 50 states are putting their databases of unclaimed property online," noted Konrad. Good Housekeeping recommends logging onto It connects you to every state in the union, and it's free. "You will see a lot of ads for services that charge money to search your unclaimed assets, but you don't need to do that," Konrad. "They are doing exactly what you can do for free by yourself."

And Cynthia Beauvais says her newfound money has taught her a new lesson: that sometimes chasing after money isn't a bad idea.

If you think you're entitled to money that's not in your name, you must prove that you're the legal guardian, representative owner or rightful heir. One more tip: Good Housekeeping says if you have a safe deposit, always pay the fee that comes along with it, because some states auction the contents of delinquent accounts after only one year.

If you have money questions you'd like answered in Money Wise, email

Reported by: Dmitra Denmark,

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