Live snake, wedding dresses and dentures among items in lost and found department

Public transport companies, foodcourts, airlines and malls give a week to three months for people to claim their lost items

Singaporeans are a forgetful lot.

In July 2013, someone left a live python in a taxi. Had the cab driver not noticed the reptile in time, it might have swallowed some hapless passenger. It was sent to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

Then, there are brides who abandon their wedding dresses (possibly), geriatric folk who forget their dentures (plausibly), people who leave their pets behind (irresponsibly) and airplane passengers who forget their underwear (incredibly).

Such lost items can be found in malls, on public transport, in planes and other public places, said spokesmen for a transport company, foodcourt operator, two mall chains and three airlines.

Add wedding bands, breast pumps, gold bars and a frying pan to the list and you understand why Singaporeans come across as absent-minded.

Singapore Airlines logs 25 to 30 cases of lost items a day, while CapitaLand says each of its 19 operational malls in Singapore handles about 10 lost-and-found cases for shoppers a month. Commonly forgotten items are mobile phones, wallets and identification cards.

It is a different story, however, on planes. Passengers eager to exit the cabin routinely forget to take with them their tablet devices, novels, shawls, glasses, documents and duty-free shopping.

Organisations have their own procedures for handling lost-and-found items. Perishables are thrown away, but holding periods for other items vary from one organisation to another - usually between a week and three months.

CapitaLand malls' customer service teams will try to reach owners of a found item if it carries their contact details. If not, the item is kept in the mall for seven days in case the owner returns for it. After that, unclaimed valuables are handed over to the police. Non-valuables are kept for 30 days before they are thrown away.

Frasers Centrepoint Malls say lost- and-found items are first logged together with details of their finders at customer service counters. These items are then handed over to safety security officers before they are stored in a secure area within each mall. The group is unable to provide further details on how long items are held for.

Owners who wish to make a claim have to show their identification cards and acknowledge receipt of the items.

ComfortDelGro Corporation, which operates Comfort and CityCab taxis, SBS Transit buses and the North-East Line, keeps non-perishable items for three months. After that, they are donated to charities such as the Singapore Red Cross Society and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore. The corporation donates on average four to five carton boxes of unclaimed items every quarter.

Ms Tammy Tan, group corporate communications officer for ComfortDelGro Corporation, says close to 60 per cent of the 19,000 lost items found on its buses and trains, and at bus interchanges and train stations last year were claimed by their owners. Pets, including hamsters and rabbits that are left behind in taxis, usually also find their way back to their owners.

Owners have to produce identification and describe their lost item in detail before they can claim it.

In March 2009, about 5kg of gold bars amounting to $377,000 was found in a ComfortDelGro Corporation taxi. They were returned to its owner, a British jewellery dealer, after he realised he had left it in the taxi's boot. He reported his loss at a police station and ComfortDelGro tracked down the cab with the details he provided.

The cab driver was clueless about the gold bars until he received a message on his taxi's satellite system, asking him to call the taxi operator's control centre.

In November 2012, $1.1 million in $1,000 notes was left in another of the corporation's taxis. Cabby Sia Ka Tian, 70, found the money on the backseat of his taxi, according to local media reports. He sent the money to ComfortDelGro's lost- and-found department and it was returned to a Thai couple holidaying in Singapore.

The process is slightly more involved when lost items come from an international traveller.

At AirAsia, staff create a report of the found property, which is kept for seven days before the item is forwarded to its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. Singapore- based lost items are kept in the AirAsia Singapore Station's lost-and-found department.

Singapore Airlines has a slightly different approach. All items are kept for three months in a central store at the airport. After that, the airline donates unclaimed items to the Salvation Army. For customers who live abroad, it usually sends the lost items, at no charge, to its overseas airport offices for collection.

Most of the time, people are appreciative when their lost items are returned.

Foodcourt operator Koufu has received letters of appreciation to thank its staff for going the extra mile.

Last year, a title deed was left behind at one of the 31 Koufu-run foodcourts here. Luckily, a cleaner found it. After the deed's owner called Koufu's headquarters, the deed was returned to him.

"It is a heart-warming experience to know that our customers appreciate the effort we take to ensure they get back their belongings," says Ms Poh Ying Xia, brand and marketing manager at Koufu.

brynasim@sph.com.sg