Theft of iPad Tracked Back to TSA Agent

Posted by , , at 9:14 am

Increased airport security has become such a way of life since 9/11 that even the least experienced traveler seems to know about taking out their laptop, taking off their shoes and not trying to carry liquids through the pre-flight security check. Yes, there will always be a few who forget, but the process has become second nature for most. What we may not have realized is that it could make sense to keep a closer eye on our belongings while we ourselves are being screened. I was shocked by a recent news report.

In the latest apparent case of what have been hundreds of thefts by Transportation Security Administration officers of passenger belongings, an iPad left behind at a security checkpoint in Orlando International Airport was tracked as it moved 30 miles to the home of the TSA officer last seen handling it. Confronted two weeks later by ABC News, the TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, at first denied having the missing iPad, but ultimately turned it over after blaming his wife for taking it from the airport.

Since reading this article, I’ve read others – and happily learned that the incidence of these thefts is remarkably low, in proportion to the number of people flying. Still, that it happens at all is a shame. After all, these are the folks entrusted with keeping us safe during travel.

Sting Operation

The iPad was one of 10 purposely left behind at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners, as part of an ABC News investigation into the TSA’s ongoing problem with theft from passengers. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Rep. John Mica, R.-Florida, chair of the House Transportation Committee and a frequent critic of TSA senior management.  “It is an outrage to the public, and actually to our aviation system.”

How Big a Problem Is It?

The TSA said Ramirez was no longer with the agency as of Wednesday afternoon.  In a statement to ABC News, the agency said it has “a zero-tolerance policy for theft and terminates any employee who is determined to have stolen from a passenger.” According to the TSA, 381 TSA officers have been fired for theft between 2003 and 2012. The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying that the number of officers fired “represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed” by TSA.

Good News at Other Airports

In the ABC News investigation, TSA officers at nine of the 10 airport checkpoints followed agency guidelines and immediately contacted the owner, whose name and phone number were displayed prominently on the iPad case. Luggage checked at the same airports with iPads and cash went through security undisturbed. But in Orlando, Fla., the iPad was not immediately returned, and two hours later its tracking application showed the device as it moved away from the airport to the home of the TSA officer.

Agent Confronted at Home

After waiting 15 days, ABC News went to the home and asked Ramirez to return the iPad.  He denied knowing anything about the missing iPad and said any items left behind at security checkpoints are taken to lost and found. Ramirez produced the iPad only after ABC News activated an audio alarm feature, and turned it over after taking off his TSA uniform shirt.

 Not the First Time Police Tracked an Apple Device 

This story reminds me of the recent burglary in Palo Alto, California: in that case, the thief happened to break into the home of Steve Jobs’ family, and stole a number of Apple devices. Police were able track down the stolen devices, and catch the burglar in a short time.

 A smart burglar (or TSA agent) might realize that this tracking ability exists: but in the case of the burglar, we know that most burglars aren’t terribly smart – by definition. Even so, we do know a lot about burglar behavior. For instance, we know exactly where burglars break in, and what burglars steal. But what’s harder to figure out is why only one in five US homes has a monitored alarm system, with a burglary occurring every 14 seconds!

It makes sense to do everything you can so your home is not a target. You can start with installing a monitored alarm system. Your peace of mind is worth a lot, and there’s nothing more important than protecting your home and family. And while you’re shopping, make sure you check out FrontPoint Security – the leader in wireless home security, and the #1 ranked alarm company in the US. And make sure you have those tracking apps loaded in your technology devices!

Comments (4)

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  1. Bill Coyne

    I lost a $600 Nikon camera out of my suitcase on a flight from SLC to BHM. Only place it could have been was on SLC. Filed claim with TSA, they denied claim saying there was no basis. Had to have been TSA as they are only ones who X-ray luggage. Learned a lesson about electronics and cameras in luggage, airline not responsible.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Bill – Very sorry to hear that yo had that experience, especially with a nice piece of technology like that camera. It sounds as if you are quite certain about where and when this loss could have occurred – and on that basis, it does not look great for TSA. I strongly suspect that the publicity surrounding this and other similar stories will send a very strong message to anyone who might be tempted to “borrow” a traveler’s belongings. Thanks for your comment, and again – sorry for the theft you experienced.

  2. Bill Coyne

    I lost a $600 Nikon camera out of my suitcase on a flight from SLC to BHM. Only place it could have been was on SLC. Filed claim with TSA, they denied claim saying there was no basis. Had to have been TSA as they are only ones who X-ray luggage. Learned a lesson about electronics and cameras in luggage, airline not responsible.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Bill – Very sorry to hear that yo had that experience, especially with a nice piece of technology like that camera. It sounds as if you are quite certain about where and when this loss could have occurred – and on that basis, it does not look great for TSA. I strongly suspect that the publicity surrounding this and other similar stories will send a very strong message to anyone who might be tempted to “borrow” a traveler’s belongings. Thanks for your comment, and again – sorry for the theft you experienced.

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