Travelers Leave 12,000 Laptops In Airports Every Week

Absentminded travelers flummoxed by airport security leave 12,000 laptops in airports every single week. Only 30% are ever recovered.

The Ponemon study indicates that most airport laptop losses occur at the security checkpoints or at the departure gates, where it’s easy to leave things behind. More than 70 percent of business travelers say they feel rushed when trying to get on their flights, and 69 percent said they are usually carrying too many items while trying to catch their flights.

Los Angeles’s LAX reported more laptop losses than any other airport, about 1,200 per week. Most of the airports said they generally keep the laptops for some period of times, then destroy them if they are unclaimed.

Sixty-five percent of the business travelers admit that they do not take steps to protect the confidential information contained on their laptops when traveling on business, according to the study. Forty-two percent say they don’t back up their data before going on a trip. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents said they have whole disk encryption or file encryption on their machines.

Interestingly, only 1 percent of the respondents admitted personally losing a laptop computer. However, 84 percent say they know someone who has lost a laptop while traveling on business.

The UK’s The Real Hustle shows how security checkpoints offer thieves an unrivaled opportunity to poach laptops from unsuspecting travelers:

Next time you travel, keep an eye and hand on your laptop. And don’t be ashamed to admit if it’s stolen. Clearly, you’re not alone.

Laptop Losses Total 12,000 Per Week at US Airports [Dark Reading]
The Real Hustle – The Airport X-Ray Steal [YouTube]
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)


Edit Your Comment

  1. cmcd14 says:

    So how do the airports not wipe them and sell them at discount? Trashing them seems like a huge loss of potential revenue.

  2. snoop-blog says:

    and yet we have problems getting children and schools pc’s…

  3. @cmcd14: I was wondering the same thing. This on top of being charges all those extra fuel surcharges. Grumble, grumble…

  4. teh says:

    @cmcd14: Selling them seems like a huge gain for potential personal data thieves.

  5. cwicseolfor says:

    Not to nit-pick, but is it 1,200 (like the blurb) or 12,000 (like the headline)?

  6. Dobernala says:

    @teh: You seemed to have missed the part about wiping them first.

  7. legwork says:

    If the “destroying” part is anything like how they destroyed all the knives & such, airport employees are getting lots of laptops.

  8. I doubt the laptop theft works anymore, now when walking through security you have to remove the laptop from the bag. At least in the US you do

  9. dragonfire1481 says:

    @Cwicseolfor: The 1200 number was for LAX only, the other number is I believe a nationwide figure.

  10. @Dobernala: Indeed so. There are programs which can run on boot that will reformat the HDD a multitude of times. The laptop is then able to be sold as is at a discount because it’s used and has no OS.

  11. B1663R says:

    The real hustle is an awesome show! I strongly recommend that program. some of the things they pull off on people is mind boggling!

    BTW my laptop is seriously encrypted and owned by the company. backs up automatically to our servers as well as daily syncing. so if i loose it, it’s no biggie.

  12. Aside from potential loss of revenue or the complete lack of social responsibility (trashing v/s donating) the environmental impact of throwing away tons of laptops that are still perfectly useable is huge. Not like Enron huge, but considering it’s wholly unnecessary it’s pretty big. I’m surprised airlines don’t do “airline auctions” in the same vein as “police auctions” to fund their failing empires.

  13. Rachacha says:

    I agree that wiping them and selling them or even better, donating them to a school or charity would seem reasonable, however, what happens when that one lone laptop, lets say from the NSA or Social Security Administration or a financial institution is lost, and the wipe of the system is not 100% effective or someone notes that it was cleaned, when it actually wasn’t. I think that would open up a lot of liability. From a liability aspect, it is safest to throw them into a shredder and be done with it.

  14. se7a7n7 says:

    I’m sure they don’t actually destroy all those laptops. You know they get taken home and sold. Nice fringe benefit for airport workers.

  15. sickofthis says:

    The video was interesting, and I agree that opportunistic thieves can snatch a laptop at the security checkpoint. But in the states, you have to have a boarding pass or ticket even to get through the checkpoint, so it wouldn’t make much sense for professional thieves to operate this way. The threat would come from dishonest fellow travelers.

  16. Trai_Dep says:

    If they didn’t force us to jump like puppets doing STUPID things (shoes, liquids, in particular) then perhaps rushed people would remember their laptops?

  17. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Why would thieves pay for tickets, that must be show at the security check, to steal a $1500 laptap that they can maybe sell for half or less?

  18. iMike says:

    Shenanigans. That’s 600K lost lappies a year? No way.

  19. tedyc03 says:

    This might be a good time to think about putting a big, obvious bumper sticker on your laptop.

    In the U.S. you have to take the laptop out of the case. A big identifying mark might be particularly useful.

  20. girly says:

    something tells me somebody made a mistake with the time period that stat covers

  21. zentex says:

    @snoop-blog: exactly. Instead of the TSA auctioning the computers or throwing them away, they should put them in a ‘pool’ that schools can submit requests for and get for the cost of shipping.

    Seems like a no-brainer…oh wait, that’s why! it makes too much sense.

  22. girly says:

    How many flights go out of LAX per day? If they have around 500 flights per day, then on about 1 out of every 3 flights, every day, has one person missing a laptop. Maybe they should make an announcement at the gates for people to check for their laptops.

  23. attheotherbeach says:

    @se7a7n7: No, we don’t know that. Can you prove it? Or do you just assume everyone is a thief?

  24. legwork says:

    @attheotherbeach: A good friend is a long-time jet mechanic. He’s a gregarious guy who makes buddies from many walks at the airport. I attended my share of barbecues with groups of these people and wasn’t exactly comforted. The topic of lost and confiscated goodies, and their wink-wink disposal, came up all the time.

    I don’t see him often now – moved out of state to help start an express 2yrs ago – but from my observations shopping is common within the biz.

  25. MelL says:

    @zentex: The problem then becomes one of building a protocol for how long a laptop is held, how the wiping is done, who does it, where it is stored, standards for who can request the laptops, what they have to actually do to ask for one, who is going to deliver it, who will handle the packaging, what happens in the case of liabilities for government laptops, dealing with private business who may feel like they’re getting screwed by having government give away things as opposed to buying from them, etc.

    And I’m sure that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to figuring out a process that works.

  26. BigBadRAM says:

    I have to believe that a process must already be in place for the many other things people leave behind. I can’t imagine why airport can’t simply remove the hard drives, shred those, and sell/donate the rest. Many a geek will tell ya that “wiping” a hard drive isn’t anywhere near as easy as most people believe it to be.

  27. ptrix says:

    All laptops have serial numbers, so why don’t the airports have a policy where, at the end of the week/month/whenever schedule works best for them, the airport staff contacts the manufacturers of all unclaimed laptops to arrange for the systems to be shipped back to the manufacturer’s or registered owner’s address, or for the registered owner to be notified that their laptops have been recovered?

  28. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    1715 lost laptops a DAY???

    I call shenanigans.

  29. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    I used to be a baggage handler for Hudson General – a baggage contractor used by many major airlines. Theft was rampant …and that was before the requirement to leave bags unlocked.

    I am surprised that the article focuses on “travelers flummoxed by airport security” when theft is more likely ramp-side, in waiting areas, bars, and restrooms.

  30. synergy says:

    There has to be a better way to handle these laptops left behind than just trashing them. I also have to wonder about people not noticing that an expensive piece of hardware isn’t on their person. But I suppose there’s a lot of people like that. There’s a reason I bought a desktop the last time I bought one and not a laptop like the husband wanted.

  31. spenc938 says:

    @ptrix: Ticket prices are already high enough. We don’t need any more crap that is just going to waste money. Maybe instead, people should just take responsibility for their own belongings.

  32. JadoJodo says:

    Solution: Partner with all the OEMs to refurb them and resell. Data is safe(r) and the airports don’t have to worry about OS licensing.

  33. NumberFiveIsAlive says:

    I was just thinking how a lead shielded hard drive in a laptop would be a good place to hide a terrorist weapon. Guess its not a good idea since they might forget it.

  34. animeredith says:

    I totally need a laptop. How do I get my hands on one of these suckers?

    Any airline employees out there want to help a sister out?

  35. nsv says:

    @Trai_Dep: I wear knee braces that set off the metal detectors and earn me a free frisking every time. The last time (last week) they told me to take the braces off. That’s difficult and painful, and it takes a long time, and I told them it takes a long time.

    “I’ll be here allllLLLLLlllll day,” the frisker happily told me.

    “I won’t; I have a plane to catch,” I said. She made me do it anyway. And meanwhile my bags were 20 feet away on the end of the belt, unattended.

  36. Bruce Bayliss says:

    You need a boarding pass to enter the sterile area and you’re required to remove your laptop from its bag.

    If The real hustle were to repay the scam in a realistic scenario/environment, I’d be inclined to believe them.

    Not this way.

  37. John says:

    Destroy them? No, they auction them, just like everything else that ends up in an airport lost and found. How do I know? I used to buy ’em at auction.

  38. nsv says:

    @John: I need one. How do you do that? Or do they sell them in large lots?

  39. coren says:

    @IfThenElvis: I don’t think people were suggesting that…but buy a cheap ass one way ticket, snag a laptop or two – a few hundred bucks profit or more for a weekend? Doesn’t sound that unprofitable to me.

    @John: Tell me more about these laptop auctions…

  40. MisterE87 says:

    If the airports sold the laptops, it would be a conflict of interest. People would be on Consumerist talking about how the airlines have this clandestine operation to steal and subsequently sell your laptop, not to mention the liability the airlines would assume for making sure each and every laptop is secure. Personally, I would rather my laptop be destroyed if I left it in the airport than trust the idiot airlines to safeguard my data, then sell it to a stranger. [shivers]

  41. MrsMicah says:

    After reading this, I think I’m heading out to BWI.

    A company my aunt worked with (she was part of an accounting firm) actually ended their “commute by laptop” program after two HR employees lost laptops with names, address, entire payroll info. Two employees in one month. Made everyone else quite grumpy, but I suppose the company couldn’t afford any further risk.

  42. John says:

    The one I use to go to was in Las Vegas, an outlet named TNT does all the auction sales for the local airports.

    See: []

    I see they still do it, there are a number of airports listed in the upcoming auctions. Contents of the lost and found are sold as well as seizures. I would routinely purchase laptops (as well as all kinds of other electronics) with all the data on ’em. I had to stop, it was killing me… I tried calling people up at first and offering to return the laptops for what I paid for them, but I got tired of being yelled at by people who thought I was a thief and didn’t get that I was now the legal owner of what was formerly their property. After I got sick of that abuse, I would frequently send CD sets of important data back anonymously if they seemed a decent enough sort. The uber-republican data security consultant who had all his passwords conveniently stored in a file on his desktop didn’t get that treatment. Nor did the christian youth leader with a lappy full of spyware and a taste for very young looking girls. I stopped after a while because the ethical dilemmas got to be too much. It was fun while it lasted.

  43. medalian1 says:

    I know someone who works for an airport in Florida. They lose a couple of laptops a month. It’s treated just like other lost & found stuff. Held for 90 days then sold at a government surplus auction site, with the airport keeping the profits. Most big ticket items, like laptops, are returned to their owners.

  44. gliscameria says:

    How the hell do you lose your laptop and not report it missing? I lost my phone and had it in my hands at lost and found within a half hour.

  45. cjnewbs says:

    @Papa Midnight: Maybe no OS CD but most laptops you buy still have the COA sticker on the underside so it still has a valid OS license.