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An all-out assault is under way to reunite billions of thousands of dollars lingering in lost or unclaimed superannuation accounts with its rightful owners.

The alarmingly high balances — some running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars — and account numbers has prompted the Australian Taxation Office to launch its biggest ever attack to hand back Australians their missing retirement savings.

There is now more than $15.9 billion in lost or unclaimed super resting in more than six million accounts.

A staggering 20 per cent of the population have more than three superannuation accounts — some as many as 24 accounts — resulting in members paying thousands of dollars a year in unnecessary fees.

Switching jobs and changing addresses are among the reasons blamed for so many idle accounts which are now resting in the hands of the ATO until they are clawed back.

The alarmingly high number of these lost and unclaimed accounts rose to $18.3 billion in 2012-13 and is gradually being retrieved by its owners, but the slow process has prompted the ATO’s latest mission to hand over the money.

In the six months to December Australians clawed back more than 265,000 super accounts holding a whopping $1.13 billion.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia’s chief executive officer Pauline Vamos finding lost or unclaimed super is simple, fast and can be done all online.

“It’s so easy now but people are still a bit gun-shy,” she said.

“What is disturbing is some of these account balances are quite high, every dollar counts.

“They can get the ATO to consolidate their accounts, it’s a great service and a free service and it works, it takes just a few minutes.”

Lost super sits in funds and belongs to people who have usually changed their name, address or job and cannot be found by their fund.

Unclaimed super is when the member meets eligibility requirements to withdraw it but the super fund cannot contact them.

ATO Assistant Commissioner John Shepherd says in some cases people have $100,000s lingering in lost and unclaimed super accounts and urged them to take action.

“When people have multiple jobs or part-time jobs, every time they start a new job they just pick up super that their employer puts them in,” he said.

“We encourage people to take their super details when they start a new job so they don’t end up in this situation.”

The ATO has begun sending SMS alerts to Australians telling them they are believed to have lost or unclaimed super, but conceded many recipients thought the messages might be a hoax.

They are also sending emails to super fund members to try and reunite them with lingering accounts.

Billions waiting to be claimed | Money Saver HQ (MSHQ)