Monday, November 12, 2007
7 News Investigations: Flight Risk
If you travel, you probably pack luggage. Let's just hope you don't put anything valuable in there. Because if you do, there are thieves looking to rip you off. Who are they? Who do they work for? How often do they get away with stealing your cash and jewelry? Tonight, Patrick Fraser has a story for everyone who travels. We call it Flight Risk.
WSVN -- Flying can be fun.
Flying can be frustrating.
And, sometimes, flying can be infuriating.
Chad Moulder: "I see that, on the carousel, my bag has been ripped open, my digital camera, that I had just received, previously is missing."
Missing, stolen, ripped off, and Chad is not alone.
According to these government documents obtained by 7 News over the last three years, about 200 passengers a year report items stolen from their checked luggage at Fort Lauderdale International Airport.
It's a little worse at MIA about 225 theft reports each year.
Everything from $51,000 worth of jewelry, to this theft of $22,000 in cash, to hundreds of cameras, DVD players and clothes.
And, just last year at MIA it was costly.
Linda O'Brien: "Passengers have given us dollar amounts of about $1.3 million worth of property."
The numbers are easy to gather. The difficult part begins when it's time to point the finger. Who is to blame? Is it the TSA employees, the airline employees, or is it some of the passengers?
Walter Shikany: "Violated, violated, yeah. It felt like someone had violated his privacy and my privacy, gone in and just taken what they wanted."
Walter and his brother lost cash and clothes, and, to this day, they have no idea who stole it.
After you check your bag at the counter or the curb, it moves out of your sight, gliding along conveyor belts where TSA employees look for dangerous items like explosive devices.
Kent George: "That's for safety, and that's for security. All of a sudden somebody gets in there and taints the situation. That's an individual."
After the TSA clears it, airline employees take your bag and load it on the plane. You can't see it. Inside the belly of the plane, security cameras aren't allowed. You have no idea what's happening.
And police say, to be blunt, they can't be certain where thefts occur either.
Linda O'Brien: "It is difficult to determine where the theft out of somebody's checked-in luggage occurs, especially if somebody's traveling, say from New York to Miami to Los Angeles or has multiple destinations."
And it's a touchy subject to talk about.
When we asked the TSA to talk about the thefts on camera, they said, 'No.'
Airlines we contacted and the trade group for airlines also told us they would not comment.
Wayne Black: "It's the airlines responsibility to take care of your bags after you check them in."
Wayne Black is a well respected security expert. He is not afraid to point the finger.
Wayne Black: "I think it's stolen after it's turned over to baggage handlers. I think the TSA people have no time. It's just impossible, running it through those detectors, they might see what's in there, but you just can't in that part of the process. You can't take your time to take something out."
And whoever is stealing is almost always getting away with it.
Patrick Fraser: "While we were researching this story we had to fly to New York to do something else, so, we thought, let's try a little experiment, so we took this fake emerald, this fake diamond and this costume jewelry. We put it all in this bag, threw in forty bucks for the heck of it, packed it along with this video camera, and then we checked it."
When we got to New York's La Guardia Airport, our little black bag and camera were still there. Back from New York to South Florida, same story. The cash, camera and fake jewelry arrived safely, and the TSA says that's normal. In a written document they point out, "Two billion passengers have traveled since TSA took over screening." And, while 106,400 have filed claims, that's just one hundredth of one percent.
Impressive but not impressive enough for the head of Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale's Airport; both Fort Lauderdale's and Miami's airports told us they were aggressively trying to catch the thieves.
But, when Wayne Black, looks at the long list of items stolen and sees tens of thousands of dollars and cash. He suspects the crook is the passenger.
Wayne Black: "I think that there's a large percentage of those reports that have got to be fraud. I just can't imagine carrying $50,000 worth of jewelry in a unlocked piece of luggage."
Of course, the simple solution, if it's important, don't pack it. Carry it on board. Putting your valuables in your luggage is what causes the flight risk.