How to Protect Yourself Against Airport Checkpoint Theft

Make sure you get to your destination with all your items intact

Passengers with luggage at security check

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As more people take to the air, airport theft is becoming a major problem for travelers. In some cases, theft can take place straight from your luggage, without you even knowing it until you arrive. But one growing trend across the country involves thefts in the most brazen spot: at the security checkpoint.

Theft at Security Checkpoints

According to a report by the NBC affiliate in Miami, checkpoint thefts at the local airport can happen up to twice a week. The most thefts are attributed to fellow passengers. For these traveling band of thieves, the opportunity arises at the checkpoint when people are delayed in retrieving their carry-on luggage, or forget items when they are running off to catch their flight.

Flyers may not be the only ones to blame for theft at the airport. An ABC News investigation from 2012 found that 16 of the top 20 airports in passengers also ranked high for disciplinary action for theft against airport employees, including TSA agents. Airports ranked high for TSA theft include Miami International Airport, New York's John F. Kenned International, Las Vegas-McCarren International, and Washington Dulles International Airports. 

With everything flying through the security checkpoint at stressful speeds, making sure you leave with all of your belongings should be the first goal. When you are forced to remove your shoes to go through the body scanning machines, it can be easy to forget pocket change, cell phones, or even tablet computers - all ripe targets for theft at the airport.

Tips for Keeping Your Belongings Safe

How can you protect yourself from being a target of airport thieves or potential TSA theft? Here are some ways you can prepare before you even get to the airport. 

  1. Consolidate and carry through the checkpoint
    Before making it to the TSA checkpoint line, make sure to consolidate all items. Some tablets and similar electronics can go in briefcases, purses, or larger bags, while smaller items (like change, airline tickets, and even cell phones) can go into jacket pockets.
    Laptop computers should always travel with a TSA-approved bag that isolates the laptop from other carry-on items. By keeping items consolidated, you are less likely to leave something important behind and become a victim of theft at the airport.
  2. Identify all of your loose carry-on items
    Depending on what you are carrying, it can be very difficult to consolidate items. This is especially true when traveling with children, or those who need assistance. If you travel with lots of items or with others who need help, consider putting an identifying mark or logo on your items. It can be as simple as placing an address label with your contact information or changing your smartphone home screen to display your emergency contact information.
  3. Don't walk through the checkpoint before your bags
    With everything moving at the speed of life, you may feel the pressure to hurry up by dropping luggage on the x-ray machine belt and letting other passengers go ahead while you take off shoes or jackets. Every moment you don't have eyes on your luggage is another opportunity for a theft at the airport.
    When passing through the checkpoint, be sure to watch items enter the x-ray machine, and keep eyes on those items as they pass through the other side. Moreover, do not let others go ahead of you when your items are ready to enter the x-ray machine. If the TSA checkpoint experiences a bottleneck scam, an airport thief can steal a bag and be gone before you get through.
  4. Inventory after passing through the checkpoint
    Before putting your shoes and belt back on, take a moment to make sure you have everything. This vital step can help make sure you keep everything you are traveling with, and not become a victim of a theft at the airport. If something is missing, immediately report the loss to authorities, as they may be able to help track down items, or stop a checkpoint thief in progress. 
  5. Immediately report any losses to the authorities
    The moment you notice a missing item, immediately make sure to report it to the local authorities: both the TSA and the airport police. Even though TSA theft is rare, reporting a theft can stop theft at the airport, and increase your chance of recovering items before they fly away.

The Transportation Security Administration has additional tips to keep yourself from being a victim during your air travel.

By preparing before arriving at the airport, you will have a better chance of protecting yourself from being a target of a crime of opportunity.

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