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03/03/08 - Theft At Airport Security Check Points - Don't Be A Victim!
A photographer recently e-mailed me that her iPhone had been stolen while going through security at the Philadelphia International Airport. The initial e-mail asked the best course action of trying to deal with the TSA and Philadelphia Police Department, as neither agency seemed to care much about her loss.
The fact is the TSA and most local police departments do not have the resources to track down minor thefts. I informed this photographer that she should contact the TSA Supervisor Desk and PPD at PHL and ask them to review the tapes. Everyone passing through a TSA check point has a name and a "positive ID," the problem of course is matching up that positive ID and a face. Today I was informed that the PPD pulled the tapes and they could see the man behind this photographer reach into her bin and remove the iPhone...............................the problem of course is no clear view of the face and no name to match it to.
As I have discussed multiple times before on Flying With Fish, there are some thieves who make their living in airports. People think I am an alarmist; the fact is these people are out there and there are ways to protect yourself, even when going through an area you think is "secure" such as a TSA check point. Who'd be dumb enough to commit a crime on front of dozens of United States Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, Agents? Skilled thieves, that's who. These thieves are not that dumb, they are skilled and brazen.
What some of these thieves do is this; they find the lowest fare for travel from a high traffic airport and check in early online. By checking in online these thieves can have their boarding pass for a 9:00pm flight 24 hours before boarding the plane, and get through security when the security check point opens at 5:00am. The thieves spend their day people watching. They are looking for body language, items out in the open, people who seem unfamiliar with security procedures and those who seem confused and easily distracted by dealing with all the procedures for crossing from the "land side" to the "air side" of security. The "professional airport thief" has a subtle way of getting in line behind their target. You won't know the thief is there until they are gone.
In the course of a day a skilled thieve can go through security at an airport like PHL a dozen times. These thieves go from one check in point to another and use tactics like waiting for lunch shifts and shift changes. By waiting for shift changes these thieves can cross back and forth without being noticed, they can avoid the problem of already having a screeners initials on their boarding pass by print multiple copies of their boarding pass on their home computer, hotel computer, or anywhere they choose to check-in online. To blend in these thieves dress like business travelers, carry a roll-aboard bag with a small amount of clothes or a brief case with basic items inside as to not raise any red flags. In short, they blend in and blend in well.
Some very experienced thieves fly short point-to-point, or low cost "hub flights" at the end of their stealing day. Why? Because if they buy tickets frequently and never fly the route a few times they will raise red flags in both the airlines system and the US Dept of Homeland Security's system. These people do not want any red flags. Some really good thieves gain "elite status" and use airline clubs to further their stealing endevours.
OK...........now..........here is what YOU can do to better protect yourselves from someone snatching your wallet, phone, camera or laptop when you go through the TSA security check point at any airport.
1) Before you get to the metal detector place your wallet, phone, keys, watch, or anything else you may have on you that will set off the alarm in the pockets of your jacket or in your bag. Somewhere that is not easily accessible for a their to "snatch and walk."
2) Right as you are about to place your bags and bins down pat yourself down from one end to the other. By patting yourself down you may find some items, like change in your pockets. Do NOT separate the personal items you have removed from yourself, keep them all in one place, all in one bin
3) Do not cross the metal detector until you see your open bins have started to enter the x-ray machine.
4) From the time you approach the metal detector to the time you arrive back at the x-ray machine NEVER take your eyes off the x-ray machines exit runoff area!!!!!
5) Make sure the FIRST bin you place through is the bin with you shoes, jacket, etc that has your personal items. Thieves will not spend time going through your pockets; they only want what is open and readily accessible. If you need to, place these items in your shoes or in a baseball hat you then cover with your jacket. These thieves can't rummage for items, they only want what is readily available to them.
6) The second bin through should be your laptop. By the time you clear the TSA metal detector you should arrive at the x-ray machine with the laptop (in a less congested airport you'll arrive with the first bin). In some airports, or at certain times of the day I place my laptop through first. It is a judgment call on my part.
7) Place your bags last onto the x-ray machine belt . Always place the bag most likely to be pulled for secondary hand-screening last in the order of the bags you are having screened. By doing this you ensure you have all your items in your possession before the TSA Agent-Screener pulls your bag to open it.
8) If your bag is pulled for secondary screening (and mine are 90% of the time) be polite to the agent and NEVER act confused by this. If you act confused or become forgetful as a result of your bag being pulled for secondary screening you open yourself up to becoming a target again. This is a clear sign to the airport thieves that you are inexperienced and can easily be distracted.
9) When you find your seat in the gate area try and find a corner, it gives you two walls of protection
10) Just be alert and if need be always travel with a small locking zip-cable and a small combination lock to secure your bags to a bench or post. You never can be to secure!
If I may quote Sgt Esterhaus from the TV show Hill Street Blues : "Hey... Let's be careful out there!"