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Unclaimed Property Focus
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UNCLAIMED PROPERTY FOCUS is a blog written by and for UPPO members, featuring diverse perspectives and insights from unclaimed property practitioners across the U.S. and Canada. We welcome your submissions to Unclaimed Property Focus. Please contact Tim Dressen via tim@uppo.org with any questions about submitting a blog post for consideration and refer to our editorial guidelines when writing your blog post. Disclaimer: Information and/or comments to this blog is not intended as a substitute for legal advice on compliance or reporting requirements.

 

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UPPO Advocacy Update: October 2019

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 24, 2019

To help members remain aware of UPPO’s advocacy activities, the Unclaimed Property Focus blog presents the recurring Advocacy Update when legislatures are active or significant advocacy activity has occurred. Following are recent activities and trends from UPPO’s Government Relations and Advocacy Committee (GRAC).

 

Texas H.B. 3598 Update

Earlier this year, the Texas legislature passed H.B. 3598, which the governor subsequently signed into law. Among other things, the legislation outlines requirements for combined reporting of unclaimed property for affiliated companies. The new law raises many questions for holders and service providers.

 

On Oct. 15, 2019, UPPO sent a letter to Texas Director of Unclaimed Property Joani Bishop and Assistant Director of Unclaimed Property Bryant Clayton, requesting clarification from the state regarding issues related to controlling interest, third-party vendors and combined reporting implementation. 

 

UPPO received a prompt response. Texas unclaimed property officials are currently drafting guidance regarding the new law and welcomed a call to discuss our questions. We look forward to our discussion, scheduled for Oct. 30, and will provide additional member updates when more information is available.     

 

As more and more legislatures and regulatory agencies take on issues affecting unclaimed property compliance, advocacy has become an increasingly important role for UPPO.

Please take a few minutes to complete our 
Government Relations and Advocacy Survey to help us build our grassroots network. Responses will give us the ability to mobilize UPPO members when we are faced with legislative and regulatory challenges and opportunities.

 

 

Tags:  consolidated reporting  Texas 

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Unclaimed Property Best Practices for Accounts Receivable

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 17, 2019

Unclaimed property compliance often begins with the accounts receivable department. Regardless of a company’s industry, AR is a common source of potential unclaimed property via credit memos, overpayments, duplicate payments, customer account adjustments, unidentified remittances, accounting errors, promotional credits and discounts, product returns and write-offs. 

 

AR departments can reduce their unclaimed property risk by implementing several best practices.

 

Establish written policies and procedures to ensure that unclaimed credit balances are addressed on a regular basis.

 

Ensure that account receivable duties are segregated to discourage fraudulent activity. No single individual should have control over adding a customer plus the ability to generate credit memos. This reduces opportunities for an employee to create a fictitious customer and issue a credit to that person. 

“It is important to monitor employees’ roles, understand what each role has the ability and access to do, and make sure that there is not crossover that might lead to bad actions,” said Colleen D’Eramo, corporate service specialist with Owens Corning, during a recent UPPO webinar.

 

Update last activity dates to accurately reflect current activity. Maintaining an ongoing relationship with a customer reduces the likelihood of an account becoming dormant. Recording accurate last activity dates is necessary to flag accounts at risk of generating unclaimed property and demonstrates proof of ongoing relationships with customers in the event of an audit. 

 

Follow up on credit balances as they are created. Contact customers to ask whether they want the credit offset against the next billing cycle or refunded via a check. 

“Customers are busy with their day-to-day operations, and credits can be easily forgotten,” said D’Eramo. “If you’re waiting for them to contact you about the credit, it may not happen. The longer credits linger, the more challenging it can be to take care of them because of changing roles and difficulty tracking down the transaction history.”

Include credit balances on all invoices. This practice reminds customers of credits they may otherwise forget and helps demonstrate you are making customers aware of their credit balances in the event of an audit. 

 

Establish a procedure to automatically generate correspondence with customers with outstanding credit balances. Routinely generating a report that flags customers with credit balances of two years or longer, for example, can help you reach out before accounts have to be reported as unclaimed.

 

Include outstanding credit balances in standard due diligence communications. Much like including balances on invoices, this procedure reminds customers of their credits so they can be applied or refunded rather than reported as unclaimed.

 

Implementing these procedures, AR departments have less liability to worry about as accounts age. The goal is to reduce the amount of time credits remain on the books and, ultimately, eliminating the need to consider them for unclaimed property reporting. 

 

 

Tags:  accounts receivable  best practices 

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Whistleblower Trend Raises Concerns for Unclaimed Property Holders

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 10, 2019
Updated: Saturday, October 5, 2019

Government politics aren’t the only place whistleblowers are making news these days. Several recent whistleblower lawsuits aimed at unclaimed property practices signal a concerning trend for holders. 

 

Typically, whistleblower, or qui tam, cases under the False Claims Act come about when a company’s employee or former employee (referred to as the “relator”) alleges the company defrauded the government by intentionally paying the government less than what is owed. Allegations usually involve falsifying documents to mislead the government into thinking less money is due. 

 

“Unclaimed property cases don’t fit into the usual False Claims Act mold,” said Ethan Millar, partner with Alson & Bird LLP. “False claims statutes were not intended to apply to regulatory disputes between a state and a holder about when states’ unclaimed property laws apply. They were designed to be quasi-criminal anti-fraud statutes, which is why they impose severe penalties, including treble damages and attorneys’ fees.”

 

Unfortunately, recent qui tam cases have been based on mere regulatory disputes. Given the direction such cases have taken, it’s possible that any noncompliance with unclaimed property statutes could result in accusations of False Claims Act violations. 

 

Decided last September, The State of Delaware ex. rel. William Sean French v. Overstock.com Inc. represents a turning point for False Claims Act cases related to unclaimed property compliance. At issue in the lawsuit was Overstock’s relationship with CardFact (later acquired by Card Compliant LLC), a third-party company used to issue gift cards and assume certain gift card responsibilities. 

 

The case came about when a former CardFact employee filed a qui tam lawsuit, alleging that CardFact and dozens of its retail clients (including Overstock) had violated the Delaware False Claims and Reporting Act by failing to escheat unredeemed gift cards to the State of Delaware. 

 

Among the various allegations, the plaintiffs claimed that the contracts between CardFact and its clients were shams and that the retailers rather than CardFact were the true issuers of the cards, and were required to report them to Delaware, as their states of incorporation. All of the defendants in the case other than Overstock were dismissed or settled. 

 

“I don’t think anybody in the holder community believes that Overstock acted with knowledge or reckless disregard for the law,” Millar said. “Overstock’s actions were perfectly reasonable and consistent with what dozens of other retailers were doing in terms of structuring their operations to reduce unclaimed property risks. These structures were not hidden from Delaware. They were openly discussed at conferences, in Delaware audits and in Delaware voluntary disclosures, and nobody ever said you can’t do this kind of thing or have to do it a particular way. To the contrary, Delaware approved very similar structures for well over a decade prior to this case.” 

 

However, a jury decided the third-party “cardco” structure in this case was improper and that Overstock knowingly or recklessly disregarded the law and should have reported its unredeemed gift card balance, less related profits, to Delaware. Along with the decision came a hefty judgment for $7.2 million, including civil penalties, treble damages and other costs. In addition, the state is entitled to attorneys’ fees, though the amount of such fees is still in dispute. Overstock has appealed the decision.

 

This decision leaves the unclaimed property community wondering, if a company can be held liable under the False Claims Act under those circumstances, what other circumstances could be used to hold businesses liable.

 

Relators are motivated by the prospects of a huge financial windfall of 15-25% of any judgment or settlement resulting from their lawsuits. Unfortunately, their self-interests are advancing aggressive enforcement positions regarding unclaimed property laws that not even state administrators are promoting.

 

In another recent case, New York ex. rel. Raw Data Analytics LLC v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., the relator alleges that JPMorgan is liable under New York’s False Claims Act for failing to self-assess interest on late reported unclaimed property. Although the New York Office of Unclaimed Funds does not require holders to self-assess interest, the court ruled that, under New York’s Abandoned Property Law, such self-assessment is mandatory. JPMorgan takes the position that nobody in the industry self-assesses interest and that the states don’t expect or ask holders to do so.

 

“We’re now seeing these sorts of cases where relators are making novel legal arguments about what is required under state unclaimed property laws, and then trying to use this alleged violation of the escheat statutes as the basis for False Claims Act liability,” Millar said. “False Claims Act complaints are no longer confined to scenarios when a company is committing what looks like fraud.”

 

Relief for the unclaimed property community from False Claims Act lawsuits that exceed the law’s intent requires a court to address one big question: Should False Claims Act statutes even apply to unclaimed property? The False Claims Act is intended to apply when money is owed to the government. However, unclaimed property is owed to the property owner. The government acts merely as a custodian of the property. 

 

“I suspect any major False Claims Act case in the future will raise this issue,” Millar said. “There is strong authority in the False Claims Act that a custodial interest alone is not sufficient to trigger the False Claims Act. After all, the False Claims Act statutes were intended to apply to government funds, not to money owed to individuals.”

 

Until such a decision, unclaimed property holders can take steps to protect themselves. First, they should ensure their unclaimed property compliance policies, procedures and practices are current, well documented and thoroughly followed. Next, address “gray areas” where holders and states have differing perspectives. 

 

“There will always be gray areas because no unclaimed property law directly deals with every specific situation,” Millar said. “These gray areas may be exploited by relators. However, holders can protect themselves by obtaining legal opinions to support their positions. Even if a court later disagrees with the holder’s position, the fact that the holder reasonably relied on legal counsel can demonstrate that the holder did not act with the knowledge or recklessness for False Claims Act liability.”

 

Finally, respond to issues raised by employees. Companies should have policies and procedures in place for addressing employee complaints. Don’t retaliate against employees who raise potential issues, and always investigate credible complaints. Giving employees a meaningful complaint process and remediating problems early may reduce the likelihood of issues rising to the level of a full-blown qui tam lawsuit. 

Tags:  JPMorgan  litigation  Overstock  qui tam  trends  unclaimed property  whistleblower 

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Litigation Update: Judge Puts Univar Case on Hold

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Univar Inc. v. Geisenberger, et al.

 

In the ongoing dispute between Univar Inc. and the state of Delaware, U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika ruled on Sept. 17, 2019, that many of the plaintiff’s claims lack “ripeness.” As such, she dismissed the majority of claims, keeping just two alive, pending a decision from the Chancery Court whether to enforce a Delaware subpoena.  

 

Although the plaintiff in Univar argued that, because Delaware subpoenaed Univar to provide records, the complaint’s claims were ripe. The subpoena and formal enforcement action filing set the case apart from the similar Plains All American case, which was brought before the state had formally taken steps to request records or force Plains to comply with an audit.  

 

The judge, however, disagreed. “While the state has subpoenaed documents from Plaintiff under the 2017 amendment to the UPL and has filed suit in state court to compel compliance, Univar cannot meet the adversity prong of the ripeness test until it is actually compelled to participate in the audit,” she wrote in her ruling. 

 

The court declined to dismiss two of Univar’s claims. The complaint argues that the state’s contingent fee arrangement with its third-party auditor violates Univar’s right to due process. It also asserts that audit subjects are selected based on their likelihood to produce large amounts of money for the state, constituting an equal protection violation. 

 

While the court agreed that two of the claims are ripe for consideration, it put the case on hold, pending a Chancery Court decision whether to enforce the state’s subpoena. 

 

“If the Chancery Court does not enforce the Subpoena, this action may no longer be necessary,” the judge wrote. “On the other hand, if the Subpoena is enforced, certain issues may become ripe and an amended complaint may be appropriate.” 

 

UPPO will continue to monitor and report on the progress of the Univar case as noteworthy developments occur.  

 

 

 

Tags:  audits  Delaware  estimation  litigation  Plains All American  Univar 

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UPPO Advocacy Update: September 2019

Posted By Administration, Thursday, September 26, 2019
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2019

To help members remain aware of UPPO’s advocacy activities, the Unclaimed Property Focus blog presents the recurring Advocacy Update when legislatures are active or significant advocacy activity has occurred. Following are recent activities and trends from UPPO’s Government Relations and Advocacy Committee (GRAC).

 

Whistleblower Litigation

Among the issues GRAC has been closely monitoring is the increase of whistleblower court cases related to unclaimed property. Bloomberg Law recently covered one such case, which involves allegations surrounding JPMorgan Chase’s unclaimed property liability in New York. 

 

UPPO is concerned that the case could result in unintended consequences affecting unclaimed property compliance: 

  • The outcome of the case could diminish the incentive to voluntarily come into compliance. 
  • The case also raises issues regarding multiple state agencies interpreting the same statute differently.
  • The case could result in new operational burdens for both holders and administrators.

Please watch the UPPO blog in the coming weeks for more information about whistleblower cases and steps holders can take to protect themselves. 

 

Texas H.B. 3598 Questions

Earlier this year, the Texas legislature passed H.B. 3598. Among other things, the legislation outlines requirements for combined reporting of unclaimed property for affiliated companies. The new law raises many questions for holders and service providers. GRAC has begun compiling a list of these questions, which will be used to request clarification from the state. UPPO will email members shortly with additional information and an invitation to contribute questions to GRAC. 

 

Do You Have Ideas for GRAC?

GRAC is interested in your feedback. To make it easier for members to submit ideas and issues for the committee’s consideration, UPPO has added a form to the advocacy web page. Please use this form to share advocacy suggestions, ideas and issues for GRAC to consider. 

 

As more and more legislatures and regulatory agencies take on issues affecting unclaimed property compliance, advocacy has become an increasingly important role for UPPO.

Please take a few minutes to complete our 
Government Relations and Advocacy Survey to help us build our grassroots network. Responses will give us the ability to mobilize UPPO members when we are faced with legislative and regulatory challenges and opportunities.

Tags:  consolidated reporting  litigation  qui tam  Texas  whistleblower 

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