by Mike Todd

“Wait, but I’m not dead,” I explained to the customer support representative. She didn’t seem quite convinced.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Todd, but the account was closed due to inactivity,” she explained again, deftly using the passive voice to assign blame to no one. Who closed the account? Let’s not get bogged down in the details. It was closed. Accounts close all the time. Who are we to say who closes them?”

“It’s just, if I’m not dead, why would you close my account and give away my money? Seems like, if your customers are still alive, you should leave their accounts open,” I suggested.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Todd, but the account was closed due to inactivity, and the funds in it were given to the state. You can go online to to request the funds back, if you’d like,” she said.

“I’d like very much to have those funds back,” I said, realizing that I was more likely to recover the lunch money I’d lent to Jimmy Gallagher in fifth grade.

Last year I signed up for a high-deductible “Don’t Get Sick, and We’ll Give You $500” medical plan through my employer. If you signed up for that plan, it was your responsibility to make sure you had a health savings account (HSA, if you’re still awake) set up to receive the funds. Last week, during that phone call, I discovered that my HSA provider closed my account in 2012 due to inactivity, even though I was, by most accounts, still alive. So I did not receive my $500 for not getting sick in 2013, and I also lost $145 that was already in the account.

“Duuuuuude,” I said to myself after hanging up, realizing that not only had I lost $645, but, even worse, I’d have to tell my wife that I lost $645. (Kara was actually quite understanding when I told her, though we agreed that since there was nothing in my HSA because nobody in particular had closed it, it might be best if I didn’t severely sprain my ankle this summer, as I’d been planning to do.)

There was clearly no point in trying to retrieve money that had been turned over to the state two years ago, but just to follow up, I visited that afternoon. It took me about 20 seconds to select my state, search for my name, find the record of my lost funds, provide my Social Security number and request that a check be sent to my current address.

The check arrived about 10 days later. Also in the mailbox was an identical envelope addressed to Kara. I’d also searched for her name that fateful afternoon and found that she had some unclaimed funds from ING Direct. “Oh, I forgot to tell you that I found some old ING account that you used to have and requested the funds. It’s probably a check for 23 cents,” I told Kara, handing her the envelope.

“I don’t remember having an ING account. Must have been a long time ago,” she said.

We opened our envelopes. My check was for $145. Her check was for $1,600.

“Dude! I just made us money by losing 500 bucks!” I said as we high-fived. It’s not a strategy I would recommend, but sometimes, it pays to be a degenerate.

Since discovering, we’ve made a sport of looking up friends and family members so that we can tell them to go spend 20 seconds to pull the arm on the slot machine and see how many cherries show up. We’ve found several people in the database: my mother-in-law, Kara’s aunt, my mom’s friend, my buddy’s dad. Our success rate is around 10%, but it’s still way more than we would have expected.

So if you’re the kind of deadbeat who might have forgotten about an old account somewhere, you should visit to see if your name shows up. You might luck out and find that somebody in some boring desk job just assumed you were dead.

The drinks are on Mike Todd at