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Annual unclaimed property auction draws bargain hunters


PHOENIX – Eduardo Carrasco perused jewelry and coins at the Arizona Department of Revenue unclaimed property auction last month.

Carrasco was looking for jewelry for his wife’s birthday and Valentine’s Day, and searching for collectible coins for himself.

He said he has participated in the auction for five or six years and expected to leave with four or five items, depending on the demand and other bidders.

Carrasco’s favorite part? “Just the excitement of winning a bid,” he said.

Once a year, the Arizona Department of Revenue auctions off unclaimed property that is abandoned in safe deposit boxes around the state.

If items sit inside a safe deposit box for more than three years after the lease or rental period on the box has expired, the property is considered unclaimed, according to the department’s website.

After items are deemed unclaimed, the state holds them for two additional years while attempting to find the owner. If the state can’t track down the owner, the items are auctioned off.

Most of the time the items are small, and the state agency will hold the unclaimed property in a safe until the property is claimed or sent to auction, said Rebecca Wilder, Department of Revenue communications director.

Since 2020, the auction has been hosted only online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

People interested in bidding, like Carrasco, can preview the items up for auction in person at Sierra Auction Management, a local public auction company, in Phoenix on a designated day.

While unclaimed property also includes a “financial asset owed to an individual or business,” according to the Department of Revenue website, Wilder said the auction only handles physical items that come from safe deposit boxes.

Unclaimed property can include financial assets, like escrow balances, outstanding payroll and vendor checks and matured certificates of deposit. It also includes funds from “uncashed paychecks, uncashed tax returns, unclaimed security deposits on apartments, abandoned bank accounts or uncashed rebate checks,”

Like the jewelry, coins and other items that go to auction, abandoned financial property is “considered unclaimed when there has been no owner contact for a specified period of time, usually between one and three years.”

Such funds are not auctioned off, like the tangible goods, but held by the state for 35 years. If no one claims the money in that time, it reverts to the state’s general fund.

Proceeds from the auctions of physical items are also held by the state for 35 years, in case an owner comes forward. After that time, the money goes to the state’s general fund, Wilder said. Anyone who might have unclaimed property that was auctioned can claim the proceeds from the auction within that time frame.

The January auction brought in $329,948.50.