But in at least 19 states — including Delaware, where many big companies are incorporated — retailers must work with state unclaimed property programs to return money from unspent gift cards to consumers. Money that isn’t recovered by individual consumers is spent on public service initiatives; in the states’ view, it shouldn’t go to companies because they haven’t provided a service to earn it.

Claim it

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have unclaimed property programs. Combined, they return around $3 billion to consumers annually, says Misha Werschkul, the executive director of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center.

Werschkul says it can be tricky to find the holders of unspent gift cards, but the growing number of digital cards that name the recipient helps. State unclaimed property offices jointly run the website MissingMoney.com, where consumers can search by name for any unclaimed property they’re owed, including cash from gift cards.

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