Unclaimed Property Sales and Auctions: Strange Ways to Make and Save Money

Places like airports, businesses, theme parks, and even the post office are often stuck with property that cannot be returned or delivered to its proper owner.

Baggage turns up at the airport and no one claims it. The mail service has packages that go unclaimed or things that become damaged in handling and separated from their shipping labels so that the owners are unknown. Businesses and theme parks have lost and found departments that frequently overflow with unclaimed property. Police and sheriff’s departments often end up with items that have been seized, abandoned, or that remain after an investigation is complete. Even states have auctions of property such as the unclaimed contents of safe deposit boxes.

While all of these entities are required to attempt to locate the owners of lost property, sometimes it just isn’t possible to reunite an item with an owner. Once the required period of time has passed, the business or government is allowed to sell or auction off the unclaimed property. This can be your chance to pick up some great items cheaply.

Here are some examples of the items that were for sale at my local airports’ last auction. Anything that people may pack in their luggage appears at these sales.

  • Diamond engagement ring
  • Full set of Louis Vuitton luggage
  • Coach handbag and wallet
  • Cameras, ranging from point and shoots to full SLR set ups
  • Skis
  • Pearl earrings
  • Clothing, some of it designer
  • Sunglasses, some of them designer
  • Rolex watch
  • Hairdryers and curling irons
  • iPods, laptops, and netbooks
  • Cell phones
  • Cars that were abandoned in the parking lots

If you’re into antiques and collectibles, safe deposit box auctions can be a great place to score items like baseball cards, stamps, antique jewelry, or coins. Lost and found sales are more unpredictable. It’s usually a bunch of umbrellas or sunglasses, although you can occasionally find computers, cell phones, and cameras up for grabs. Police auctions usually bring bigger items that have been seized or abandoned such as cars, homes, furniture, appliances, and computers. You may also find smaller collectibles that were part of an investigation and never claimed.

These auctions and sales are usually advertised in local papers and in the news media. Many entities also advertise them on their own websites or social networking pages. You may also find notices if you belong to collector or hobby groups. Smaller sales may only be advertised at the sales site, as is often the case with schools or libraries that sell their lost and founds. Most are open to the public, although some places may restrict entrance to only employees and (possibly) their guests. Theme parks are big on this type of policy. If this is the case, see if you can find someone who works there to get you in or to search for what you want.

You can both save money and make money with these types of sales and auctions. If you can buy stuff cheap, you may be able to resell it for a profit. Or you can simply keep your finds so that you don’t have to pay retail for the items. As with any sort of auction or public sale, you have to know your prices if you want to get a great deal. You need to know what the items you’re shopping for are worth and avoid getting caught up in the frenzy and overpaying. You also need to refrain from buying things you won’t use or that you can’t easily sell. All sales are final, so there is no recourse for buyer’s remorse.

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