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Sergey Brin, Please Pick up your Paychecks (angrystatistician.blogspot.com)
220 points by octonion on Feb 19, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

I wrote most of this app on a contract nearly 10 years ago. We used it as a mentorship exercise to train state worker programmers in the SCO department on the (then new) ASP.NET Framework and SQL Server 2000. The DBA was familiar with Oracle and mainframes, but not SQL Server. It was written in ASP.NET 1.1 and used SQL Server 2000. From what I can tell it hasn't changed much at all.

"Programmer and database types will notice one problem immediately - no fuzzy string matching."

Yeah, I really wanted to implement that. The problem was we had to use Microsoft SQL Server and no third party database/indexing systems. SQL Server's Full Text Indexing run took too long during the nightly import job on year 2000 commodity hardware. We also had to do all of this within the constraints of training state workers and handing off something they could actually maintain.

Ah, the joys of state contracting.

I see there are plenty of posts down below that are complaining about the lack of fuzzy search. By all means, crawl the site and create a better search engine. IIRC it is setup in such a way that new records are always appended at the end of the ID space. Just check every night for new things. At the time we wrote this there were a few companies doing just that, charging a small fee, and soliciting people that were owed large sums. I mean, you've got a $6B market, in just California, to play with where you could probably earn 5% or more as a finders fee to those that don't know this is public record, or might just pay you to avoid the hassle of the paperwork.

There was also a web service interface to this system that returned paged results as plain ole XML, but unfortunately I don't remember the URL. We had wanted to expand and create an interstate network by partnering with Texas and some others, but it never panned out for reasons I forget.

It is really nice to have the original author show up and comment on something like this.

After looking at this site I started thinking about ways of crawling the whole database. The 500-record limit would make an alphabet tree crawl a bit more challenging but not too bad. Do you think the state agency would be amenable to requests for bulk download?

[edit] just saw your post which answered most of my questions while I was typing them.

My new employer was owed nearly $23000. Hopefully that gains me some good karma.

I have lived in several states including CA and found four claims for myself in the CA system due to forgotten accounts from prior addresses, here are a few that might be typical examples of what is being held in this program:

1. Pacific Bell Telephone Company $72.24

2. Verisign (SSL or domain payments) $73.50

3. 20 shares of TravelZoo stock ~$400.00 value?

That TravelZoo stock was from back in the crazy/genius dotcom days when they gave out free stock for email referrals and sign ups. :) They did something right since they are still in business.

I do appreciate this program as these were my oversight/losses, things I had forgotten. However the process to place claims is a bit of a hassle: I need to physically print out forms, include copies of ID, etc. I'll write up a blog post of the process of claiming it when it's all said and done.

I cannot believe the "SEC has not asserted any violation of law by Travelzoo" for "the first offering of 'free shares' over the Internet" [1]. Technically, only a registered broker-dealer agent is allowed to transact shares, and never at a price unrelated to the market.

[1] http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1133311/0000950138010...

A very interesting blog post. The key idea is here: "Programmer and database types will notice one problem immediately - no fuzzy string matching. If your name or address was misspelled on the assets, or munged in the recording process, tracking down any assets belonging to you could become a difficult to impossible process. Given that this database has at most 18 million rows, there's no excuse for such a basic (and important) feature to be missing." A lot of government databases could improve usability enormously by implementing that suggestion.

When I was in college I spent a summer going through Alaska's database (it was downloadable), cross referencing with a people search engine, and then mailing letters to people to tell them that they had missing money and how to claim it (and asking for a 5% cut). Made a decent summer's wage. Pretty sure I could have made a ton more money but it was pretty boring work so I just focused on school and more professional internships after that.

Still, an opportunity for someone feeling entrepreneurial out there.

Only 5%? That's cheap... you should have taken the fee model from collection agencies, and taken 20%+.

Except for the fact that the receiver is getting a letter in the mail from someone they've never met informing them that they are owed money. Pretty much screams scam, even though it isn't in this instance.

I'm guessing this person doesn't want the money back: http://scoweb.sco.ca.gov/UCP/PropertyDetails.aspx?propertyRe...

And you found that how?

A "Steven [P] Jobs", of Palo Alto and Woodside, has a bunch of small insurance, share, and dividend amounts due, including for example:


I suppose Oracle Shareowner Services has had a hard time reaching this reclusive character since their last reported contact date of "10/2/2008".

The address, 2101 WAVERLY ST PALO ALTO, does indeed confirm this is the late Steve Jobs.

Linus Torvalds is owed about $250, e.g. http://scoweb.sco.ca.gov/UCP/PropertyDetails.aspx?propertyRe...

I live by Linus, want me to walk over there and let him know?

The problem with Celebrities is that they have multiple homes and travel so much that you still can't confirm they live there at the moment.

I really have no idea why my cat is owed $5.98 by Ace Hardware:


The address they have is correct.

Apparently, Barack Obama has $250 in unclaimed cashier's checks from First Republic Bank: http://scoweb.sco.ca.gov/UCP/PropertyDetails.aspx?propertyRe...

Also, looks like Woz hasn't claimed his $5.61 from Apple yet: http://scoweb.sco.ca.gov/UCP/PropertyDetails.aspx?propertyRe...

Edit: Related to an article posted earlier about John Draper/Cap'n Crunch, looks like he has some property to claim too:



Edit 2: Hmm, looks like Jesus Christ has some unclaimed property too: http://scoweb.sco.ca.gov/UCP/PropertyDetails.aspx?propertyRe..., http://scoweb.sco.ca.gov/UCP/PropertyDetails.aspx?propertyRe..., http://scoweb.sco.ca.gov/UCP/PropertyDetails.aspx?propertyRe...

So I guess some of this is people using fake names.

Is it just me, or is it really creepy that anyone can dig up this sort of info about your income/pension/insurance/etc?

Illinois' search is no better, but it does not display dollar amount details: https://icash.illinois.gov/

In Sweden, tax records are public information, so every year around tax time, tabloids will print long lists of names of "the richest people in YOUR neighborhood". Compared to that, this is nothing.

It is also creepy that you can just keep incrementing the property id in the URL and churn through the results.

Property tax searches are a great way to DOX someone, btw.


To find and release publicly personal information about someone -- name, address, phone number, and even SSN and credit card numbers -- in such away that they become identifiable to just about anyone online.

This was a hot topic a few months back when reddit had to deal with it: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/10/truth-lies-doxxing-inte...

Doxing is one of the forms of protected free speech that reddit bans.

Protected speech?

It's not actually illegal in the United States. As opposed to child porn that does not have 1st amendment protections.

It would not be legal (in general) in EU. Data Protection etc.

Yes, child porn is banned on reddit. But things that are protected free speech, but not child porn ("sexually suggestive images of minors") are also banned on reddit.

A term used to describe speech protected under the US Constitution / First Amendement, i.e. it's illegal for the government to ban this sort of speech (they can ban other sorts of speech). Reddit is based in USA, and learn close to the US legal definition of free speech (except in some cases).

Since Reddit isn't the federal government, I fail to see the issue with them deciding what forms of speech are and are not acceptable for their forum.

Eh, call my annoyed. When people complained about some subreddits that took sneaky sexualised photos of people (usually women) without their consent or knowledge, "free speech" was cited as a reason as to why it couldn't be closed. However when people started tracking down these photographers and publishing their personal info, suddenly that speech should be blocked.

Reddit seems to think it's OK to ban some protected speech to protect straight dude who want to perv at women, but it's not OK to ban some protected speech to protect women from being photographed in public.

(I think the creepshots subreddits probably should have been banned earlier)

There's good evidence that some of the creepshots were just regular photographs taken from existing websites, sometimes cropped or mirrored, and then given a new context. Some of this was done just to troll - linking a local meet subreddit to a creepshot group could generate a lot of anger.

People being angry about photos is one thing; real life information about people can lead to devastating witch-hunts and intense campaigns of harassment.

So I guess I can see why Reddit bans one, but not the other.

Sure, some of the creepshots and other things might be other photos. Doesn't mean all aren't though, one must address that.

People being angry about photos is one thing; real life information about people can lead to devastating witch-hunts and intense campaigns of harassment.

Sexualized photos of people taken without their consent is bad. The very fact of taking sexualized photos without consent/knowledge (e.g. upskirt photos) is harassment.

Witch-hunts can be a problem. People violating privacy and harassing people and then avoiding any consequences is a problem too.

So I guess I can see why Reddit bans one, but not the other.

The cynic in me thinks it's because of the general gender of who's affected.

> Sexualized photos of people taken without their consent is bad. The very fact of taking sexualized photos without consent/knowledge (e.g. upskirt photos) is harassment.

Oh yes, I agree.

Thanks! And thanks to officemonkey, too! (But I can't reply to two comments with a single one, I think.)

DOX: Search for and compile records about a specific person in order to hack/prank/harass/thieve them.

A couple of states seemed to have outsourced this (Ohio, most notably) to another site - missingmoney.com. When searching for first and last names it returned likely matches as well, so perhaps they've implemented some fuzzy string matching along the way that will help citizens find what's owed.

Side note: As a result of this article I found >100 bucks owed to family members which will be a great boon to them. Thanks for posting.

My nephew has $0.26 coming to him. I wonder if he'll track down a notary for the form that will charge less. Next question is: drive in the form or mail it? ;)

Haha, Mark Zuckerberg (and Randi too) have a couple on there as well.

I just found someone who has over $50000 coming to them. Unusual name, so they were easy to locate on LinkedIn and Facebook.

I wonder what kinds of safeguards they have in place to prevent people with the same name from claiming each other's things.

You need to enter in your SSN/Tax ID/FEIN.

Well are their fake SSNs or other ID numbers because I'd doubt that Ms. Asdf Asdf (of CA 90210) has a genuine government ID number, http://scoweb.sco.ca.gov/UCP/PropertyDetails.aspx?propertyRe....

Could you just claim that against your own ID?

@Author: Thanks buddy, I didn't find anything for myself but some of my family members need to collect their check :)

Hah, I looked up the Florida equivalent of this unclaimed property lookup/site, and it's humorously located at https://www.fltreasurehunt.org

Looks like I had some unclaimed cash in lieu of shares from a previous employer. Claimed!

that site seems sketchy as all get out...

Yeah, I agree it looks that way ... I thought it was a scammy site at first, but you can find it referenced on other sites (http://www.fltreasury.org/), and even in the local media as legit (ie. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2003-07-11/news/03071003...). So unless this is a really well orchestrated scam, it's real as far as I can tell.

Are there any companies that will monitor states unclaimed property and retrieve it for a commission?

I had a small amount of money in a bank account that I found in the Australian version; not long after I claimed it, I received a letter from 2 solicitors saying that I had unclaimed money (although they wouldn't say where from) that they could help me retrieve for a fee.

Maybe they could enact a law that allows them to take ownership of unclaimed property after a certain amount of time? It seems to work that way for abandoned storage units, lost property at airports, etc.

California does have escheat[1] laws which deal with unclaimed property and how the state handles situations where no rightful owner comes forward to claim.[2]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escheat

[2] http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=ccp...

New York state has $12 Billion in unclaimed money! None of it belongs to me though. http://www.osc.state.ny.us/ouf/index.htm

There are plenty of businesses out there that find money for people on commission. I just always thought they were some sort of dodge, sounds like there is some merit to it.

The results of mining the first 3.5 million records - http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5255962

@_@ I just found a check for my self from a former employer.

Ha, 99 stores owes me 39 dollars. I'd rather them send it to the red cross or something. I wasn't even expecting there to be anything either. shrugs

This might be a goldmine for genealogical research...

Heh. $24 from a Washington Mutual free checking account. Surely would have paid that in fees had I agreed to become a Chase member.

I have $0.11 to claim. But since I would have to mail the signed documents in, at a cost of $0.45, I think I'll just let it go. :)

The state of California is holding over $6 billion in unclaimed property. The search engine doesn't even do fuzzy string matching.

Also note that:

    Due to the large volume of claims we receive and process,
    it may take up to 180 days to process your claim.

When we wrote this software, we tried hard to get a follow on contract to fix this 180 day problem using more automation. But, there was no budget, and the claims processors did not want to lose their jobs. We toured the location where they process the claims. They literally had piles of filing boxes containing the submitted claim forms in a secured room. I forget how many they do per day, but I remember being surprised at the volume. The site does many millions of searches per month...

Wow, that's insane. Spending $50m/year to notify people and process these claims could easily be justified given the sheer size of the assets being held.

Much of it will never be claimed (no matter how much effort is exerted). What is your reasoning for why that much expense would be justified?

The average per potential claimant ($6B / 17.6MM) is only about $340.

Are you sure they want the money to be claimed?

I'm scraping the entire database. The largest amount I've found so far is $1.4m - I've sent her a message on Facebook.

State of New York search: https://ouf.osc.state.ny.us/

seems to be down/

No joke I just found 100 bucks, thanks!

I skimmed a few other states for relatives and found several hundred dollars. Thanks!

Funny, just found out that distant family overseas is owed over $1000, not bad :)

Haha, found $7.66 for a friend on the first search. :)

Surprised this is the #1 story on HN...

There's a lot of data in there. Some of it is going to be interesting. Some might even be useful!

I'm owed $60! First round's on me.

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