What Happens to Items Left at TSA Checkpoints?

By Erin Delmore

“I’ve lost belts, sunglasses, stuff like that,” said James Grainger of San Francisco.

“You could definitely do it and get caught up in the hustle and bustle,” said Jimmy Rea of Springfield, Missouri.

Chances are, you’ve lost something while going through airport security. And who could blame you? You’re in a rush, distracted, eager to stack the bins and get to your gate, even if your ID, watch or loose change is still floating on the bottom. It adds up. Airline passengers left more than $16,000 worth of loose change at Newark Airport last year — and nearly $675,000 in coins at airports nationwide. The TSA catalogs it and keeps it.

If you leave something behind at one of Newark Airport’s TSA checkpoints and it’s not loose change, a liquid, aerosol or hazardous material, it gets sent to the TSA lost and found less than five miles away in Union.

Here you’ll find, “Belts. Belts. Belts. Brown belts. Black belts. Red belts. Reversible belts. Canvas belts. Leather belts. Belts. Because people take their belts off when they come to a checkpoint,” said Lisa Farbstein, TSA Public Affairs.

Plus laptops, cell phones, keys, wallets, IDs, cash, coats, canes, free weights, entire suitcases, walkers and the hot item of the year — selfie sticks. No, you can’t pack them in your carry-on. Jewelry is organized by month and day, other things by terminal and gate. Some of it’s pricey.

“Yesterday brought watch Breitling. Several thousand dollars,” said a TSA agent.

And priceless.

“Take a look at this rabbit. It’s been a while, and they never called back for it so I guess the child finally parted without it,” said Ofelia Ruiz, customer support and quality improvement manager.

The “surrendered” items — TSA insists they’re not “confiscated” — sit in boxes in a storage room down the hall filled with Swiss army knives, corkscrews, toy guns, credit card knives, a saw blade and bullets.

You can’t reclaim banned items, but you have 30 days to pick up from the lost and found. If you don’t claim it, anything worth more than $500 gets sent to TSA’s main office in Arlington, Virginia.

“Anything that contains personal data such as laptops, any cameras, anything like that gets sent to headquarters and then we destroy it,” Ruiz said.

If it’s worth less than $500, it likely gets sent to a state surplus store in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and sold at rock-bottom prices. And profits from EWR’s lost goods go into PA’s coffers.

Some things end up on govdeals.com — a government-run auction website where TSA’s wares are combined with other government agencies, which explains a firetruck for sale.

Some advice from the TSA: “If you have earrings like this, a watch, rings like this, leave them on. That’s not going to alarm the machine,” Farbstein said.

“If you put your business card on your laptop, on your carry-on or just a name and a phone number, a very simple way to identify you, we’ll call you before you call us,” Ruiz said.

When asked if she has ever left anything at a TSA checkpoint, Ruiz said, “Actually, I have not.”

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