I found a broken Macbook Pro on the street. What should I do?
May 18, 2014 4:31 PM   Subscribe

I was driving along and spotted in the middle of the street what looked to be a laptop bag. So I pulled over and grabbed it. Inside the case was some immigration paperwork and a Macbook Pro. I went through the paperwork, found an address and drove there, but it was a business that had no info about the person on the paperwork. They told me that sometimes people used them for a mailbox dropoff when entering the country and had no info to help. The computer's screen is cracked and won't boot, so should I just pitch the whole thing? Try to find a serial number and contact Apple? Sell it on Ebay? I really don't know.
posted by nedpwolf to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a name on the paperwork? Try googling it.

If the name is super-ubiquitous or there is no name, I would probably pitch it unless you know enough about Macs to refurbish it for not a ton of money.
posted by Sara C. at 4:36 PM on May 18, 2014

Drop it at your local police station.
posted by kinetic at 4:47 PM on May 18, 2014 [24 favorites]

Police station. Even if no info is retrievable, it can be worth some peace of mind for the owner to know that no info is retrievable.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:49 PM on May 18, 2014

thirding police station. also, if you have another mac and a FireWire or thunderbolt cable depending on the MBP model, you could try starting it in target disk mode (power on while holding the "T" key) and see if any data is readable that way.
posted by russm at 4:56 PM on May 18, 2014

An Apple store should be able to match the serial number to the original purchaser. I imagine you'd have to leave the computer there as I doubt they'd give you the info.

I really don't think the police will do any legwork whatsoever to reunite it with its owner. Probably just store it for 30 days then chuck it.
posted by ryanrs at 4:59 PM on May 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I find lost technology all the time in my neighborhood. Definitely try googling the name.

If you get nothing out of that, I'd hang onto it for a few days. This sounds nuts, I know, but sometimes if you wait a few days, you can think of something else to do to get information off the device to find the owner (i.e., looking up how to get information off a cracked macbook via google?).

I would agree with police station, but I somehow have doubts they will do anything but put it in a lost and found, wait a month, and then throw it out - without doing anything to remove personal information from it.

I've found phones, kindles, you name it - and every single person has been extremely grateful when I found them to return it.

And please, people, be sure you put MOM or DAD or HOME in your phone...and your kindle. ;) Saves me a little time.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 5:02 PM on May 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you can't find the person, don't pitch it. List it on ebay. I just sold a broken Macbook (wouldn't boot - no idea what the problem was, and I removed the harddrive because I didn't want someone having all my data) for a couple of hundred bucks. I was amazed anyone wanted it at all, let alone willing to pay that much.
posted by lollusc at 5:28 PM on May 18, 2014

I found a pile of backpacks and computer bags in the bushes across the street from my house when I got home from work one day. I live near a hospital that has a sheriff's department substation, and some of the things in the bags looked like it could have been medical-related (things were mostly not in English), so I called them and they sent a deputy who collected everything. I have no idea if they ever found the owners, but at least I wasn't going to be possibly on a receiving-stolen-property hook ("Oh, you just *found* it? Yeah, sure.")
posted by rtha at 5:46 PM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would not advise to sell it. Yes, you found it. But how can you prove that you found it and didn't steal it if the owner, for whatever strange reason, comes across it? Someone stole it from him/her, ditched it, you found it and trying to sell it you are suddenly dealing with stolen property. Not good.
posted by nostrada at 6:20 PM on May 18, 2014

Will it boot in Target Disk Mode?
posted by musofire at 6:28 PM on May 18, 2014

Sensitive data could be on there. It's unethical to sell it (at least unless you are hella sure you wiped it irretrievably).
posted by J. Wilson at 7:31 PM on May 18, 2014

Can you put a description into the lost and found section on your local Craig's List site? Or, similarly, into the appropriate section of your local alternative paper's classifieds? The right person will know the name on the paperwork.
posted by carmicha at 8:48 PM on May 18, 2014

Seconding Apple store. They can find out the serial and reunite it with the registered owner. What happens when you try to boot it? I'm thinking the battery may just be empty.
posted by w0mbat at 9:15 PM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sell it on Ebay?

I think if you were to take ownership of it, and then do X, like sell it or keep it, that would be theft by finding. And you'd be screwing over an immigrant.

I'd try the Apple store, and see if they can get contact information somehow, from a serial number or the hard drive.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:25 PM on May 18, 2014

In California, where I live, there's a law that found property worth over $100 is supposed to be turned over to the police...and then later you as the finder might get it back if the police can't locate the owner.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:54 PM on May 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

As with some others above, I wouldn't trust the cops to do anything beyond toss it in a box somewhere and then sell it off to the highest bidder at the end of the year (without wiping any sensitive data), so unless you're in a location which requires you to turn it in to the cops that's probably a waste of time.

...so I'd say Target Disk Mode, followed by Apple store, followed by the cops. Assuming you care enough to do all that. This way you stand a chance in hell of helping the poor person (god, losing their immigration paperwork, I feel bad for them just by proxy), while at the same time meeting any legal requirements that are likely to exist.

Man, somebody had a really crappy day.
posted by aramaic at 8:56 AM on May 19, 2014

I don't know much about Macs, but if this were a Windows laptop, I would remove the hard drive and attach it to a working PC to see if I could get any information off the drive.

I don't think giving the computer to the police is a good idea. They'll do nothing with it. If you're not keen on removing the hard drive, etc. then I would take the machine to the local Apple store. In my few encounters with the folks at Apple stores, I have found them to be remarkably more helpful and attentive than the typical ex-cons who pass for sales clerks these days.
posted by alex1965 at 12:38 PM on May 19, 2014

Best answer: Hello there nedpwolf I'm a cop in a medium sized Canadian city but I think my answer is going to be true for most places including the USA.

You should report it to the police and turn it in to the police nearest where you found it. If someone knows they lost it they may have filed a police report. The police will be able to get more cooperation out of Apple than you will, in terms of finding a serial number and matching that to sales records. Additionally police have databases of things likes driver's licenses and immigration status that they can check with the name on the paperwork you found.

With the information you have to provide the police should be able to return it to the owner fairly easily. I don't know why Alex1965 thinks the cops won't do anything with it, while there are lazy cops in the world this seems like any cops favorite type of case: one easily solved where someone will actually be happy to see the police for once. Most people I meet day to day are having the worst day of their life, and I've been known to drive an hour outside my jurisdiction to return a wallet, just for the thrill of occasionally delivering good news.

Secondly, it's not yours, so selling it would most likely be a crime.

Thirdly, many (but this varies quite a bit) jurisdictions have found-property regulations that allow the finder to claim the item or the proceeds of the sale of the item if it is not claimed. So if you just keep it and put it on eBay you're mostly likely breaking the law, but if the police can't find the owner for some reason you might actually get it back in a month or three.

Finally, I am a cop, but I'm not your cop, or your lawyer, or necessarily from your country, so this isn't legal advice, don't sue me, etc.
posted by BlueSock at 2:10 PM on May 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

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