Deep in the heart of the Bank of Canada building in Ottawa, half a dozen civil servants toil at what may be the most satisfying job in the country. Their task, day-in and day-out, is to hand out money to people.

They work in the Unclaimed Balances Service of our central bank. This is where dormant bank accounts go after 10 years of inactivity.

How much money is sitting there, just waiting to be claimed? A large fortune actually. At last count, the Bank of Canada was looking after 938,000 unclaimed accounts worth about $320 million.

These aren't just chequing and savings accounts. The Unclaimed Balances Service also looks after long-forgotten GICs, term deposits, bank drafts and credit card balances. Most of the accounts hold less than $500. But some have six figures in them (and we're not counting the decimals).  One is worth $430,000.

The central bank hangs on to all inactive accounts for 30 more years after they're transferred to its care. Then, if the account has less than $1,000 in it, the money is forfeited to the Government of Canada and you can't get it back. But for accounts above $1,000, the Bank hangs on to them for 100 years after they get them (in other words, 110 years after the last activity). The oldest account was last touched in 1900. It's a safe bet the original owner is unlikely to claim that one. 

Politics and money

We found more than 50 accounts belonging to various wings and constituency associations of the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP, the Reform Party and the Social Credit Party (along with one account from the Young Communist League worth $379). 

Fortunately, the Bank of Canada has a web-based search engine that makes it easy to see if you or family members have any unclaimed accounts. And even if you don't strike gold, it's an amusing time-waster checking to see who among your friends, neighbours, relatives or co-workers might have lost track of their money.

See what you can find at the Bank of Canada's Unclaimed Balances search.

There's no cost to claim your money, and the Bank's website has all the information you need, including the claim form you need to send in.

Don't pay finder's fees

As we said, the Bank of Canada gets accounts transferred only after there have been no deposits or withdrawals for at least 10 years. But each year, the Canada Gazette publishes a list of accounts that are about to be transferred to the bank. These are accounts that have had no activity for at least nine years and hold at least $100.

This list is now available online on the Canada Gazette's  Unclaimed Balances website.

It lists each bank in alphabetical order and then lists the name of each account holder with an account that's about to be transferred — again in alphabetical order. If you find your name, the site tells you  how to claim your money.

Some shady people look up this little known website and then proceed to contact people who have significant account balances. They'll "help" to retrieve their money for a not-so-modest fee. If you get a call like this, decline the offer and then find the account yourself from the Gazette's website and claim it directly from the bank. Remember, it doesn't get transferred to the Bank of Canada untilthe 10-year mark.

To Part 2:  Unclaimed credit union and caisses populaires accounts