The Mystery of the Laptop that Showed Up in the Luggage

So, a little story and a call for advice:

My co-worker flew back from LAX to JFK on Delta last night.  She checked a bag, then complained about the checked bag fee, then complained about airlines in general, then blah blah blah.  Where was I?  Oh yes, she checked her bag.  When she arrived home late last night, she opened said bag and found a laptop in it that neither is, nor was, hers.

She appreciates the gift from the TSA (keeping our airports safe), but she would like to return it to its rightful owner. The laptop does not identify the owner.

Question:  Whom should she call?  (Seriously, feel free to send me an email to jared (at) if you have the actual name of someone she should call).  I’m not sure if this is Delta’s problem or TSA’s or LAX Airport.  And even if I knew whose problem it was, I’m not sure who you’d even call at that place.



  1. Ok, first of all, I’d boot the laptop and try to find some emails FROM the user. And send that email (the owner) an email saying I found the laptop. I’m not sure if that breaks some laws but hey, if I were the owner, I’d be happy. And you know what, if I’m on a red light and I see ten fire trucks coming behind me, screw the red light. I think this kinda the same: there are things you’re not supposed to do but in extra-ordinary situations, you’ve got to use common sense.

    Second, if it’s a dell or some other big brand name, there’s a unique support code on there, she could call dell/etc. Hopefully, she’ll get someone with a little bit of sense that will call the owner and pass on your friend’s contact info. Obviously, I sure hope dell/etc won’t give the owner’s phone. But I bet this is a lost cause… I bet the reply will be “I’m really sorry I can’t help you, maybe I can forward your call to a random extension in our crazyland phone system where someone else will say sorry a lot and sound dramatically sorry about your problem but we’ll not do anything to help until you quit calling us”… Yeah, that’s my experience with dell ;-)

    I wouldn’t even try to call the TSA, airport, etc. You’ll get stuck in phone tag crazyland. But it’s worth a shot. At least you’ll be able to say you tried. Good reason why you decided to run the red light.

    Everyone should put a sticker on their laptop with an email or phone number on it. It’s surprising how many good people find stuff and are willing to send it back but have no way to know who it belongs to. Some tricks:

    1. digicam: take a picture of an email address or phone number and always leave it in the camera when you empty all the other pictures
    2. put a sticker of an email or phone number on everything that’s worth something that you bring outside your house.
    3. throw in a bunch of business cards in a couple of places in your luggage. If the airline tag gets ripped off and they end up having to open it, they won’t put keywords like “Mickey mouse t-shirt” to help locate the owner, they’ll actually have contact info where to call you (it’s surprising the number of bags who get lost and whose owners can never be found because of lack of unique details about the bag to help locate it).
    4. install lojack for laptops or some other similar software
    5. iphones and other phones have special software where you can send messages to your iphone if it gets lost, remote wiping of the data, etc. seriously consider it.


  2. for suggestion 2: maybe you don’t need to tag the dog. Maybe you do. your call ;-) But I’ve heard they had “rice grain”-sized implants to help locate your lost dog. I guess it works RFID style (transponder). I need to google that, I wonder what type of success there is in finding something through a transponder (i.e. need to drive around quite a bit and be rather lucky to drive close to the lost thing, especially if it moves too)…

    Oh, and one last thing: if you’ve got good backups and your drive is encrypted: you just lost the value of your laptop but, other than that, you just get another one shipped to you and remaster it from the backups and you don’t even need to worry about the lost data running in the wild. Check out TrueCrypt, it’s free and will encrypt your sensitive stuff. If you loose your laptop, at least you won’t be afraid someone is looking at your kids’ pictures and tax returns…

    Always prepare for the worse. Think about it right now, if someone walked in the room and ran away with your computer, would you cry or would you only be bummed about the lost time?

  3. Try using social media as a way to track down the laptop owner. Tweet about it and ask followers to RT to see if the word can be spread, and eventually reach the owner (a longshot, but anything’s possible). Post a pic on Facebook and ask friends to do the same. See how far the image can be spread, and if through X degrees of “social separation” you can find the rightful owner!

  4. Is it a mac? If so, (and i could be wrong b/c it’s been a while since i did this) you can do a few things.

    1. enter the serial number into the apple support website to see if it’s registered. It won’t give you contact info but if it is registered then maybe they would reach out to the registrant for her.

    2. if there is no password on it, log in an open the addressbook app and see if there is an “owner” contact

    3. if there is a password, she can use target disc mode to access the HD or she can boot from an install CD to get into it as well (I won’t bore you with details here but if this is the case and she needs instructions, let me know).

  5. Unfortunately (for so many reasons), it is not a Mac.

    Thanks for the suggestion, Not Steve Jobs. Good luck at the press conference today.