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Swiss banks reach out on Web

Under scrutiny from the international community, a group of Swiss banks posts the names associated with unclaimed accounts on a Web site.

Under scrutiny from the international community for its mishandling of unclaimed funds dating back to World War II, a group of Swiss banks has posted the names associated with these unclaimed accounts on a Web site.

The site has racked up over 1 million hits since it went live early Wednesday morning, according to Michael Freitag, spokesman for the Swiss Bankers Association.

The Web site is one part of a multifaceted effort by the Swiss Banking Commission (SFBC) to track down owners of accounts that have remained dormant since 1945. In addition to the site, the SFBC has also set up 800 numbers to field claims and has taken out ads in newspapers in 27 countries and 19 different languages. The 800 numbers have already fielded 2,000 calls.

But the information on the Web holds the most hope of finding account holders and their heirs, partly because it is accessible worldwide. "If ever there was a clear-cut case of where new technology could help us, this was it," Freitag said. "We're trying to find people all over the world and the technology is helping us enormously. People are contacting the site from all over the world."

Except for some initial complaints about the length of time certain pages were taking to download, the site has weathered the storm of inquiries with little problem. "There was heavy demand, and it was kind of sluggish during the peak periods," Freitag explained.

The site lists 1,872 names associated with 1,752 accounts, including all types of interest-bearing savings accounts, securities accounts, and safe deposit boxes. It is unclear whether claimants will be entitled to accrued interest.

Altogether, the accounts total over $42 million. All money unclaimed at the end of the outreach effort, which is expected to last at least a year, will be donated to charity, Freitag added.