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23 January 2012

How to prevent thefts by TSA employees when you fly

Several recent media reports highlighted a number of alleged and admitted thefts by TSA employees, and these stories serve as a reminder to passengers that while most TSA employees are honest and fully dedicated to protecting the public, a rare few will steal from passengers.

TSA employee sells stolen items on craigslist
A January 20, 2012 Miami Herald story described the arrest of a TSA employee who allegedly stole items from checked luggage, smuggled them out using a hidden pocket added to his TSA uniform jacket, and sold several items, including at least one iPad, on craigslist. This scheme reportedly had been going on for about three years. This TSA employee's wife was also charged.

How to prevent this from happening
Do not pack expensive and easy to sell valuable items such as laptops, money, or jewelry in your checked bag. On US flights, checked baggage must either be left unlocked, or use approved locks that can be opened by the TSA, so that the TSA can inspect checked luggage. This same advice would apply to a couple who had $500 stolen from their checked bag in December 2011 at the Punta Gorda, FL airport, though it is not clear if a TSA employee was involved in that theft.

Laptops stolen from screening area by TSA employee
A New York Post story reported a January 10, 2012 incident where a college student who forgot his laptop in a screening area at New York's LaGuardia Airport and had the laptop allegedly stolen by a TSA screener. The now-fired TSA employee was reportedly seen seen on a surveillance video taking the laptop and later admitted to the theft when confronted by a TSA supervisor.

Last October, another former TSA employee was convicted of stealing a laptop left at the screening area at the Memphis airport. Like the LaGuardia theft, this one was aslo caught on surveillance video.

How many TSA employees are theives?
A May 2011 New York Press stated that about 500 TSA employees had been fired or suspended because of thefts from passenger luggage. A February 2008 blog post on the TSA web site stated that the TSA had fired or sought prosecution for 200 TSA employees accused of theft. Some of those theft victims were other TSA employees. This means that on average, about 50 thieves had been discovered within the TSA each year.

How to prevent this from happening
If you travel with a laptop, make sure that you retrieve it after you pass through the TSA screening area. There are several things that you can do, including having some kind of reminder that you packed a laptop. For example, you can open up your backpack or laptop bag so that it is clear that something should be put back into it.

If you travel in a group, have the first person to make it through screening make sure that everyone's valuables are accounted for. Also, TSA lets you keep iPads, Kindles, and smaller notebook computers like the 11-inch MacBookAir in your carry-on bag when you go through screening.

Laptops are not the only things stolen
Last July, the the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that a former TSA employee at the Ft. Lauderdale airport admitted to taking a passenger's $450 pen. According to a statement by the former employee, the theft didn't happen at the screening area, but after the pen was set aside by the TSA, presumably as an item that was headed to the TSA's lost and found department.

Change the TSA can believe in
Sometimes the money left by passengers as they go through TSA screening isn't stolen, because the TSA can legally keep it. According to a December 2011 Los Angeles Times article, loose change left behind by passengers can be kept by the TSA and used to help fund the agency's operations. In the 2010 fiscal year, this spare change added up to more than $375,000.

What can you do to prevent theft?
While passengers can't do anything to prevent a rogue TSA employee from stealing from you, there is quite a bit that you can do to prevent thefts from happening in the first place. For more details, download out the Baggage and Security Guide, which includes a number of articles on how you can pack your carry on or checked bag so that you reduce or eliminate the chance that you will be a victim of theft the next time you fly (available as a PDF file, or as an ebook for our iPad or Kindle). You can find similar advice at the baggage resources page at


  1. Thanks for this article. Please check for typos. A "rouge" TSA agent? Are you sure about that?

  2. I want to know how Two violent dangerous sex offenders can board a plane out of Virginia and make it to Hawaii with outstanding warrants on each of them..What TSA too busy patting down 80 year old grandmothers???

  3. Great article I didn't know these things and will prove to be useful the next time I will fly.

  4. March 7, 2012
    During a recent flight from LAX the TSA Rep. took my wallet out of my hand and proceeded to "VERY THOROUGHLY" check all of the inside compartments. One can only wonder about the possibilities had I looked away, or been distracted for a few seconds.

  5. i guess i am lost...if locks are TSA approved, does that mean there is a universal key to fit such locks?