(WATCH) Burnt Bucks

Let’s say you have a big bundle of cash, and it all goes up in smoke in a fire. You might think you’re out of luck. But there could be hope. Lisa Fletcher reports on an interesting, but little-known, money-back guarantee.

The following is a transcript of a report from “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.

Maui, Hawaii, Aug. 8. A massive wind-fueled wildfire engulfs multiple communities on the west side of the island.

By daybreak, clearing smoke reveals the extent of the damage. Many businesses were obliterated, along with the cash kept inside of them.

So, it may come as a surprise to many victims of the fire, or any fire, that charred cash, as long as it’s U.S. currency, can be redeemed. Not at a bank, but here, at the Mutilated Currency Division at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C.

Eric Walsh: We are the only place that will replace money that’s been damaged to the extent where it requires specialized examination to determine this value.

Eric Walsh is the division’s manager and says this little-known corner of the U.S. Treasury has been replacing damaged dollars, free of charge, since Andrew Jackson was president in the mid-1800s.

Walsh: We get approximately 23,000 cases in a year, and we redeem usually around $35-40 million.

Claims are stored in this vault. Each package contains currency remnants, a letter explaining how the damage occurred, and an amount.

Sharon Williams is an examiner and investigates cases to make sure they add up. Today she is working on one from a house fire in the Pacific Northwest.

Sharon Williams: I’m actually verifying the amount what the customer has sent in. Once I finish, I’ll tape them to my tissue paper.

The U.S. Treasury will issue a check for the lost amount if more than half of each note can be identified as U.S. currency.

Lisa: Do you have any idea how much money is here?

Williams: They claim $240,000.

Lisa: And how far into it are you?

Williams: They sent in 20 Tupperware here, so this is the first one that I’ve started.

Fire isn’t the only culprit.

Glenn Chumpitaz: This was currency that was buried in the backyard, and it’s just like clay, like cement clay. And, what I did, I soaked it in water, so it gets soft, and I picked apart the currency strips.

Most bills have clear threads in the paper with the value of each note written on them. Glenn Chumpitaz, another examiner here, is separating those, and will add them to verify the claim.

Lisa: How much mush money is allegedly here?

Chumpitaz: They claim $40,000. It might be less and maybe more. So, when I get through with it, we’ll see.

There is no limit to the amount of mutilated currency the division will investigate. And apparently, no limit to the methods of mutilation either.

Lisa: What’s the weirdest or most unusual case you’ve come across?

Walsh: We always suggest to send in the currency in its original package so no further damage comes to it. A farmer lost his wallet in the field, and when he discovered what had happened to it, that the cow had eaten the wallet, he had several hundred dollars in there. So, he butchered the cow and submitted his claim with the cow’s stomach. And so our examiners at that point had to deal with retrieving the wallet from the cow stomach and processing that case.

Bringing a whole new meaning to “cash cow.”

For Full Measure, I’m Lisa Fletcher, in Washington, D.C.

Watch video here.

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