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12,000 laptops lost in airports every week

It's a story about a lost-and-found, but not just any lost-and-found. This one is filled with an item many swear they could never do without: Their laptops. And each year, thousands of laptop computers are left at airports.

Personal laptops, company laptops are all loaded with sensitive information, music, movies, games.

So why are people so forgetful to keep this all-important device close by when traveling? And what happens to all those 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 owners.

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.

"I mean, it's part of you. It's your communication. It's your life. I don't get that," she says.

To give you a better idea of just how many laptops filled with sensitive personal and business information are lost in airports each year, imagine a trail of laptops stacked end to end leading from the airport 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.

"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," says Kirk Lovell, an employee at Myrtle Beach International Airport.

Jon Allen, a regional TSA representative, says the TSA can only go so far when it 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," says Allen.

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

"It's not just getting through the security process," says Allen. "It's, 'I've 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 going to 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 piqued 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, it's usually 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.

So here's 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. He says, "Our job is to protect the traveling public and that's what we do."

Translation - your laptop is on its own.

The worst news about lost laptops is the numbers being left in an airport are going up, not down. In fact, a 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.

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