NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It’s more common than you think, a person that you once knew made you the beneficiary of their life insurance policy without your knowledge.

Now, the Internet is making it easier than ever to track down the missing funds.

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“It’s almost like having a savings account that you’re not aware of,” Jon Mendleson told CBS 2’s Maurice Dubois.

The money often comes as a surprise; most people have no idea that a family member, long lost friend, neighbor, or secret admirer, left it without telling them.

“I approached this in a cynical way,” Ralp Zeth said.

Zeth said he couldn’t believe it when he found out that nearly $3,000 was waiting for him from an insurance policy left by his mother, who passed away in 2002.

“I said, ‘you know, jeez, from the grave she’s still having an impact on my life,’ it’s amazing,” he told CBS 2.

Zeth used the money to help pay for a trip to Italy, something that he said his mother would have loved.

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However, Zeth’s payout is only a drop in the bucket. There may be as much as $1 billion in benefits from misplaced or forgotten life insurance policies waiting to be claimed, according to experts. Payouts have reached as high as $300,000.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s Office keeps track of and oversees the distribution of these unclaimed funds. Collecting these lost policies isn’t as far fetched as it might sound. A quick search of the state’s unclaimed funds website revealed a pair of CBS 2 staffers who were owed hundreds in lost insurance money.

“It was great, saw both my parents were there. Called them and found out we had some money,” Ari Cices said.

Some insurance companies, like John Hancock and MetLife, are making it easier for benefactors to collect unclaimed money. All a person has to do is type their name into a policy finder website, fill out a form, and provide proof of connection to the account.

“Being in the insurance business I do know, there’s all kinds of unclaimed funds in the millions that these big insurance companies, a few years ago, had to turn over,” Mendelson said.

Mendelson has been a benefactor several times. He said he recently received nearly $500.

“It’s nice that they keep this money forever until you’re ready to claim it,” he said.

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