A TSA agent at New York’s JFK International Airport made headlines this week for stealing a $7,000 luxury watch that a passenger accidentally left in security. This isn’t the first time the TSA has been charged with theft. A 2012 ABC News investigation revealed that hundreds of TSA employees have been fired for swiping items from travelers’ bags. And a CNN report found that passengers incurred over $2.5 million in property losses between 2010 and 2014—to the tune of more than 30,000 reported losses.
While these might seem like small sums relative to the number of travelers passing through the world’s airports every day, that’s no comfort to the passengers who have lost precious goods. A good rule of thumb when it comes to luggage theft is to think for the best and prepare for the worst. Here’s how to respond when property goes missing from your luggage in the airport.
1. If your luggage is gone entirely, report it to your airline.
2. If you’re missing a specific item, start by checking with the airport’s lost and found department.
3. If the item isn’t in lost and found, it’s time to file a claim with the TSA. When filing, include as much information as possible—receipts, appraisals, and the information for your flight will all help your claim to be processed in a timelier manner.
4 .File a claim with the airline. Each airline has its own regulations for processing reports of missing items. Contact the airline’s customer service department to learn about your options.
5. If you think an expensive item (such as electronics or jewelry) was stolen, call the law enforcement office at both your departure and arrival airports and file a report for stolen goods. Be sure to request a copy of the police report; this might come in handy as the TSA processes your claim.
6. If your missing item doesn’t turn up during the TSA’s investigation, check with your insurance company to see if it will cover the loss. Many homeowner’s or renter’s insurance plans will cover theft. Some credit card companies may also provide coverage.
Once you’ve filed a claim, you’ll receive a letter detailing next steps. Note that it can take up to six months for a claim to be investigated, and claims involving law enforcement will typically take longer.
Also be aware that screening at some airports is carried out by private companies instead of the TSA. In those cases, you’ll need to contact the airport directly in order to file a claim.
Still have questions? Contact TSA to learn more.
Tips for Preventing Theft
It’s great to respond proactively if a theft occurs. And it’s even better to prevent one in the first place. The following tips can help prevent theft and better empower you to process a claim.
- Take pictures of everything in your luggage and photocopy receipts for those items when possible. This will prove you were in possession of the item(s) prior to any theft. Make duplicates of the photos, then prepare two envelopes containing the photos and receipts. Give one envelope to a trusted friend who won’t be traveling and keep the other one on hand.
- Don’t check valuables. Jewelry, electronics, and cash are all easy targets in checked baggage. Keep these items in your carry-on or on your person at all times.
- Pack light. What’s better than keeping your valuables nearby? Keeping all of your luggage on hand. Learn how to pack light and you just might be able to fit everything you need into a carry-on. This will eliminate any worry about your luggage being in somebody else’s hands.
- Use distinctive luggage. Thieves will be less willing to abscond with a tie-dye print bag covered in glitter stickers than yet another plain black suitcase.
- Review the contents of your carry-on post-screening to be sure that you have everything you were carrying prior to moving through security.
- If you’re traveling with a companion, keep a few people in between you while going through security. That way you can watch out for each other’s belongings while you take turns going through the body scanner.
While you can never be 100 percent prepared against theft, taking a few precautions and understanding the claims process can help you respond quickly and effectively should the worst actually happen.