12,000 laptops lost in airports every week

Published: Sep. 21, 2012 at 2:03 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 2, 2012 at 3:00 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - It's a story about a lost and found, but not just any lost and found. This one is filled with an item many in fact swear they could never do without. Each year, hundreds of thousands of laptop computers are left at airports.

Personal laptops, company laptops, all loaded with sensitive information, music, movies, games, a person's life just lost forever.

So what is it about laptops and airports that seem to have so many of us so forgetful? And what happens to all these lost laptops?

The answers are almost too hard to believe.

More than 12,000 computer laptops are left in airports every week, and most are never returned to their owner.

Angela Amoroso is a traveler from New Jersey. She wonders if those careless computer owners are unconscious.

Amoroso always travels with her laptop. She can't imagine one person being so careless with what she calls her, "electronic lifeline," much less thousands a day.

"How could that be?" questions Amorosa. "How could that be? I mean it's part of you. It's your communication. It's your life. I don't get that."

To give you a better idea of just how many laptops filled with often sensitive personal and business information are lost in airports each year, imagine a trail of laptops stacked end to end leading from Myrtle Beach International to a space shuttle in orbit above the earth. The estimated value of all those lost laptops should send the traveling public into orbit as well...$700 million.

Airport officials say there's not much that can be done for the passenger, outside of a generic announcement on the airport paging system.

Kirk Lovell is with Myrtle Beach International. "With so many tablets and electronics, they're password protected. There's no way for us to identify who it belongs to so it will sit here."

The Department of Homeland Security is so concerned about the loss of so many laptops at facilities it secures, that when I contacted their regional TSA representative, he caught a flight to Myrtle Beach to so we could talk in person.

Jon Allen says the TSA can only go so far when if comes to finding a computer's owner. "We're not going to turn that laptop on. We're not going to try and analyze the hardware or anything like that."

The bottom line cause for these laptop left behinds, according the federal government; too many of us lose focus. Simple as that.

"It's not just getting through the security process," says Allen. "It's 'I got to get to my gate, I have to connect somewhere else'. You look at all of that combined, times 1.7 million people a day and you're gonna find instances where items do get left behind."

Tom Dermody is having a hard time digesting that 12,000 a week number. But it was something else that peaked his curiosity. Tom thinks there's an obvious follow up question related to all those lost laptops.

"Where do they go? I don't know. Somebody's making money on them," suggests Dermody.

Yes they are. In the case of laptops, airports, airlines and the TSA hold the devices for at least 30 days. Then most, well, it's finders-keepers.

"They'll take the memory out," says Allen. "They take the hard drive out and then at that point they can auction it, they can surplus it. It becomes government property."

Those laptops may be auctioned off online, and you can see how that process works for yourself, by visiting the US General Services Administration website at gsa.gov.

You and I already give enough to the federal government. It's time to show you how to fool-proof your trip through airport security.

Rule number one; never step foot inside an airport without some kind of contact information stuck on that computer.

Also, always place the laptop in the first plastic bin that goes through the scanner, and your shoes last. Seasoned travelers already know this trick because you're not going anywhere without your shoes and you're less likely to forget to pick up the first thing out of the x-ray.

Finally, don't expect the TSA to watch it for you.

Greg Szupillo has been a TSA agent on the X-ray line for 10-years. "Our job is to protect the traveling public and that's what we do."

Translation; your laptop is on it's own.

The worst news about lost laptops, is the numbers being left in airport like this are going up not down as more travelers bring them along. In fact that same Dell survey found 80 percent of those asked, say they already know someone who has lost a laptop at an airport, never to see it again. That means your chances of becoming the next are getting better and better every day.

Copyright 2012 WMBF News. All rights reserved.