Electronic Design

What's All This Theft Stuff, Anyhow?

My wife got stung recently. Somebody stole her computer's battery charger from her checked bags at San Francisco International Airport. Then I got stung the same way.

As I was leaving my hotel in Phoenix, Ariz., I tucked my computer's battery charger into the outside pocket of my unlocked suitcase and left to go to Sky Harbor International Airport. I didn't put the charger in my knapsack to carry it with me onto the plane as I usually do because the computer had a good charge and I didn't expect to do much typing. After I arrived in Los Angeles and went to my hotel, I looked for my charger. It wasn't there.

So, I was able to borrow some charge from my buddies chargers and do just a little typing for the next couple of days. I survived. When it happened to my wife, she was annoyed. Ever since it happened to me as well, I've been very annoyed.

The pattern is obvious. The people who run the X-ray machines at the airport are passing on the word by some kind of sticker or chalkmark to some accomplices who know where to reach inside the unlocked suitcases and grab a $100 item. Most travellers won't even report this to police, but I will. So far, several colleagues have said that battery chargers have been stolen from their checked baggage, too. So, I'm not just imagining things.

If you're carrying a laptop and you have a battery charger, or anything of value that is metallic, don t put it in your unlocked suitcase. Carry it with you. Yes, I know a pound is a heavy load to add on to your carry-on baggage. But the avoided inconvenience is worth it.

If your battery charger is stolen, report it to the police. Eventually, we will nail down the culprits. They re hurting us $100 at a time, but we will apprehend them. Or scare them into stopping. If you check in your baggage at an airport, the guys who run the X-rays know what s in it. Some of the guys at the arrival airport might like to steal what s in your baggage, but they don t have X-ray machines. So you can tell who has the info.

I could buy an FAA-approved padlock and put it on my suitcase. But that's a joke with a soft-sided suitcase. If I put a $20 lock on a $15 suitcase, the thieves would be all the more curious about what I had. They'd just slash through the side. Normally I don t keep anything of great value in my suitcase.

Specifically, I always carry my lecture notes in my briefcase. I would never put them in my checked baggage. Even if they're of no value to anybody else, they re very valuable to me, as I couldn't do my lectures without them. Even if they were delayed, I d have problems. Except for a clean shirt, there s nothing in my suitcases that I can t do without for a day. I could carry a clean shirt in my briefcase, but I don t.

I have a hard-shell suitcase, but there s no place to add an external lock. Security? At an airport? No further comment. I read recently that 87 thieves have been caught at airports. What about the other 870 (out of the 87,000 honest airport workers) who are still unapprehended? They may be honest most of the time, but a few of them are surely ready to grab a valuable item. My suitcases met up with one of them.

In general, I don't leave valuable things in my car. I know how easy it is for a guy with a coat hanger to get into a car. If I'm going to see the dentist on my way home, I bring my briefcase with my laptop into the dentist's office.

Comments invited! [email protected] or: Mail Stop D2597A, National Semiconductor P.O. Box 58090, Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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