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Security and Stuff Gone Missing
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

Along with the new security procedures travelers encounter at airports has come an increase in the number of lost computers, cellphones, car keys, and other items, by passengers concentrating more on taking off their shoes, than tracking their possessions. Our Savvy Traveler, Rudy Maxa, has some advice.

It was at a security checkpoint at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport where I first noticed the relationship between elaborate security procedures and stuff gone missing. The man in front of me was first frisked, and then he struggled to balance himself as he removed his shoes for further screening. Meanwhile, someone disappeared with his laptop that had gone through the X-ray machine.

Was it stolen or simply an honest mistake? I don't know. Now that you must have a ticket for a departing flight to go through security, there's been a drop in the number of thieves working the old distract-and-grab routine. Typically, the victim put his briefcase on the X-ray conveyor belt, and someone with lots of metal in his pockets would step in front of him through the personal scanner. That set off the bells. During that delay, a confederate would pluck the mark's briefcase at the end of the belt and melt into the crowd.

Now the problem is confusion. Security personnel tell me more and more people are leaving laptops, cellphones, Palm Pilots, and other stuff, behind as they juggle carry-on luggage, put their shoes back on, and rush for their gates. Here's a simple suggestion: Put your name and contact information on those items. Among my friends, I'm the only one with my name, phone number and e-mail address on my cellphone. And that's paid off twice, both times when the phone slipped out of my pocket into the crevice of an airplane seat. I did lose one phone in a Manhattan cab, but I guess whoever found it couldn't read.

And what about laptops? Some business types carry $4,000 computers with hard drives that contain their lives, and even company secrets. I can count on one hand the number I've seen with a business card taped to the bottom. If your laptop is especially expensive, make sure you've noted it on hour homeowner or renter's insurance policy. [And like black luggage, a lot of computers look alike. You get laptop gridlock at the end of a conveyor belt in a busy airport, and you've got people squinting to see if that Dell Latitude LS is theirs or someone else's. How the heck can someone return a lost laptop if no one knows who owns it?

There are still bad guys operating in airports. So beware the classic cons -- a guy approaches you to ask the time and accidentally stumbles into you with his mustard-laden hot dog or hot coffee, and while you're brushing yourself off, a partner in crime makes off with your carry-on bag or briefcase you've set down. My all-time favorite airport theft story was told to me by a security consultant to LAX, the Los Angeles airport. Each day, my guy would see this happy family smiling for dad who always videotaped them waving good by in the same place in the same terminal. Turns out, dad wasn't taping his wife and kids -- his lens was focused on the bank of pay phones behind them, where travelers busily punched in calling-card numbers. You get the picture.

So as distracting as crowded airports can be, you'll be well served keeping your guard up. And do what we all did in grade school -- mark your valuable items with your name.

From the Savvy Traveler, I'm Rudy Maxa for Marketplace.

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