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How thieves are stealing valuables as you go through airport security

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29 May 2018 - RPS Partnership

How thieves are stealing valuables as you go through airport security: Laptops, jewellery (and even loved one's ashes) are among the items vanishing from trays left on conveyor belts

RPS Partnership saw this interesting article about keeping your valuables safe so we thought we would share it with you. Contact us for more information about personal security courses

Reports suggest people's valuables are being stolen as they go through airport security in the UK every day, with thieves managing to pocket hundreds in goods. The pressure to get people through checks quickly is 'making it easy' for thieves. As the summer season gets under way, fuelled by the start of half-term and the Bank Holiday weekend, passengers will be heading for Britain's airports in their droves. 

So how safe are our belongings as they pass through security areas stretched to capacity?

An economics student, Fernanda, was returning to university in the Netherlands via London City airport last month, when long delays meant her belongings travelled through security quicker than she did and her £1,000 laptop was taken. Fernanda complained to airport staff, who said she couldn't watch CCTV footage because of data protection rules, and that she would have to make a complaint via the police.

Insiders believe the pressure on security guards to get people through checks quickly is exacerbating the problem.

'After three days of emails I finally got hold of the terminal manager, who said there was nothing he could do, but that he would pass it on for investigation,' Fernanda says, adding that the airport behaved as if her loss was a 'minor irritation'.

Passengers faithfully follow airport rules, yet are offered no help when the system breaks down. 

A recent survey found that more than a third of British passengers considered being at airports more stressful than their working week, with security the worst aspect of the experience.

Airports are under increasing pressure to check passengers rigorously in response to the threat of terrorism, meaning it takes longer to process people. 

Before 9/11, the average security checkpoint processed 350 passengers per hour — it's now believed to be less than 150.

Airlines, meanwhile, are trying to recoup cash lost on low-cost flights by charging passengers to check-in suitcases, causing more and more people to take all their belongings on to the plane themselves.

According to a security guard who has worked at one of London's major airports for more than a decade, items are being stolen from security trays every day. One survey found that more than one in five travellers now takes only hand luggage for a fortnight's holiday, so more bags have to go through the laborious security process. 

The upshot? Chaotic scenes with piles of expensive items separated from their owners, providing a potential haven for thieves.

According to aviation security consultant Professor Norman Shanks, there is no set protocol. 'Some airports call the police — others don't,' he says. 

'At larger airports, the police will be close by and can access the CCTV footage. They would have to take the passenger with them to identify their items.'

Part of the problem is lack of time. The passenger has a flight to catch and the thief could take off at any moment. And, adds Professor Shanks: 'In some airports, CCTV monitors are kept remotely, or footage is stored on tapes and not looked at except for evidential purposes.'

According to a security guard who has worked at one of London's major airports for more than a decade, and who spoke to the Mail on condition of anonymity, items are stolen from security trays every day. He likens the chaotic conditions to a 'cattle market', and says the situation is exacerbated by the pressure on security staff to meet targets.

They must get each passenger through security in less than six minutes — partly to appease the airlines on whose business airports rely, and partly to ensure passengers have more time to browse in the duty-free shops. 'Until around eight years ago, passengers would be dealt with by one officer — now officers have to deal with four passengers at a time,' he says. 

Stolen items range from laptops to wallets. The majority of thieves are career criminals who buy a seat on a cheap flight with the sole intention of getting access to security areas. 'They tend to be middle-aged men who work in groups. They prey on passengers in the early morning, when people are half-asleep, or at peak times when they're stressed, and target families who are likely to be distracted by children.'

According to Professor Shanks, the success of airport security screenings 'all comes down to the number of staff on duty'. He adds: 'I think most airports have cut their numbers on screening to the bare minimum. 'There is nobody to check the bag as it comes out to make sure it goes to the right person. Sadly, the responsibility has to rest with the passenger.'

He says he is aware of only one attempt to remedy the situation, at a newly opened Hong Kong airport in the Eighties.

'The airport used to have a number printed at the bottom of each tray and a laminated piece of paper with the same number on it that the passenger handed back to retrieve their tray,' he explains.

'That was the only way you could guarantee the right person was picking up the right tray. But the methodology was labour-intensive and stopped after a couple of years. It is a measure that goes by the wayside in terms of cutting costs.'

Manchester airport says that in the event of a reported theft, 'CCTV would be checked immediately and the police would be notified.

'If the passenger reports the incident after the event, our customer contact centre would investigate.' It added that 'incidents of theft are incredibly rare'.

RPS Partnership advises that valuable items 'should be placed in bags or in pockets of clothing already in the tray.' Do not leave them out and in sight as they are attractive. Try to keep your eyes on the tray and try to get through the scanner before your tray is sent through if you can. When you are going through airport security, don't take your eyes off the conveyor belt!

You need to pay scrupulous attention to your belongings and any valuables that you don't need, leave at home.

Read more for the full article with thanks to the Daily Mail, abridged version.

Photo: RPS Partnership Beirut aiport