Attorney General Tom Miller files lawsuit on behalf of Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald. Suit asks the court to order rebate-handler "Young America Corporation" to open its records to the Treasurer, and to deliver funds to the Treasurer of rebate checks not cashed by Iowans.
(DES MOINES) State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and Attorney General Tom Miller are teaming up to fight for unclaimed rebate money they say belongs to Iowans.
Fitzgerald is the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed today by Miller against Young America Corporation, a Minnesota "fulfillment" company that has handled rebate programs for Target, Best Buy, Hewlett-Packard, and other major retail companies. The suit alleges that Young America has not reported unclaimed rebate checks, and instead has kept the money from rebate checks to Iowans that went uncashed for more than three years.
"First, our suit asks the court to order Young America to submit to an examination of its records by Treasurer Fitzgerald to see if the company is holding unclaimed property that rightly belongs to Iowans," Miller said. "Second, we ask the court to order Young America to deliver any such funds to the Treasurer, so the Treasurer can begin to get the money back to Iowans."
Fitzgerald said: "Rebate checks become abandoned property under Iowa law if they go uncashed for three years. The law requires Young America and other rebate fulfillment companies to report such abandoned property to my office by June 30 each year - and to pay the reported amounts to the State Treasurer by Nov. 1," he said.
"Then we can go to work to find the rightful owners," said Fitzgerald, whose office runs the "Great Iowa Treasure Hunt" and other programs to connect Iowans with their unclaimed property.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Miller's office today in Polk County District Court in Des Moines, alleges that Young America "has never filed a report with the Treasurer and has never paid to the Treasurer the proceeds of those uncashed rebate checks" owed to Iowa consumers. Young America, based in Chanhassen, Minnesota, is the nation's largest rebate fulfillment company.
"We view non-compliance by the rebate fulfillment industry with unclaimed property requirements to be an industry-wide issue," Fitzgerald said. "We will soon be knocking on the doors of other rebate processors to seek compliance with our unclaimed property laws."
The lawsuit notes that Young America "took as its own revenue" uncashed checks totaling almost $43 million from January 1, 1995, to June 30, 2002. Such funds are called "slippage" - checks issued to consumers that are not cashed.
"We are asking the court to order Young America to permit the Treasurer to examine the company's records, so he can determine how much of that 'slippage' belongs to Iowans," Miller said. "Then the Treasurer can start work to get the money back to Iowans."
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Background -- The Treasurer's Unclaimed Property Program:
Iowa Code Chapter 556 deals with "Disposition of Unclaimed Property." Unclaimed property can be any financial asset that has been abandoned by its owner for a period of time specified by the law (three years for uncashed rebate checks.) Common types of unclaimed property include uncashed checks or gift certificates, forgotten safe-deposit boxes, dormant bank accounts, unclaimed wages, and unclaimed utility refunds, insurance dividends, and stock certificates and dividends.
Property may become abandoned when people move and simply forget about an account or deposit; when people get a check and forget to deposit it; when people move or divorce or remarry; or when an error causes a mailing to be returned as non-deliverable.
Under Iowa law the State of Iowa "stands in the shoes" of the missing owner, and the State Treasurer maintains custody until the rightful owners (or heirs) claim the property.
Rightful owners or legal heirs always have the right to claim assets. There is no time limit to file a claim, and the Treasurer's Office provides this service free of charge. The Treasurer conducts the "Great Iowa Treasure Hunt" (http://www.greatiowatreasurehunt.com/) and other programs to find the owners of unclaimed property, including mailings, State and County fair displays, public service announcements, and other efforts.
Background -- Tips for Claiming Your Rightful Rebates:
"About 40 percent of rebates are never redeemed," Miller said. "People often fail to apply for rebates. Sometimes their paper-work is rejected because they don't provide all required materials, or they make a mistake in the forms. And sometimes rebate checks are undeliverable because somewhere along the line a mistake is made in the consumer's address."
Miller and Fitzgerald listed several tips to assure consumers obtain their rebate:
- Know and follow all rebate rules, requirements and deadlines (some rebate offers expire soon after a purchase.) Be very careful about all required details, including your exact address. (Note: a high percentage of rebate processors will not send rebates to a post office box.)
- Keep copies of receipts, the universal product code (UPC code) and the rebate form you submit. (You might ask the retailer for TWO copies of the original receipt - sometimes original receipts are required for both the rebate and warranty service.)
- Send your rebate form via certified, return-receipt mail from your post office -- so you have proof that the company received your application and when it was received.
- Track your rebate, know when you can expect payment, and follow up if there is any delay. Know who is processing your rebate application (it's often a "fulfillment" house, not the retail company), and contact them about the status if there is a delay.
- If you do not receive your rebate and don't receive a satisfactory explanation, file a complaint with the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division (www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).