TSA Theft Investigation: How to Protect Yourself

Convicted TSA thief shares tips for keeping your stuff safe while you fly.

Sept. 29, 2012 — -- After an ABC News investigation found that hundreds of TSA employees have been fired for allegedly stealing from passengers' bags -- including one who apparently took an ABC News iPad home with him -- thousands of flyers reacted to the story, some of whom said they found items missing after traveling.

The TSA disputes that theft is a widespread problem, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA and the company has a "zero tolerance" policy towards theft.

But to help keep flyers protected, a former TSA officer who was convicted for theft told ABC News that there are always steps you can take to help make sure their belongings make it to their destination. Pythias Brown served three years in prison after he said he took as much as $800,000-worth of cash or merchandise from passengers' luggage or carry-on bags over four years.

RELATED: Convicted TSA Officer Reveals Secrets of Theft at Airports

Here are Brown's tips:

Don't put valuables in checked bags. "That is one of the worst things you can possibly do," Brown said. The best way to make sure nothing of value goes missing is to try and keep it with you as much as you can.

Try not to set off x-ray alarms. Brown urged travelers not to put any thick books, electronic items, large bottles of liquids or aerosol cans in checked bags because those often set off alarms at baggage scanners, giving the screener justification for opening the bag and going through it.

Don't trust TSA-approved locks designed to alert you if your bag has been opened by someone else. The TSA urges travelers to use TSA-approved locks that allow their agents to use a master code to get into the locks so they don't have to break them when an inspection is necessary. Some private companies have added a feature to the locks that indicates if that master code has been used so flyers know if someone has been in their bags. Brown said he and others learned how to jimmy the lock to make it appear to the owner as if it was never opened. Other locks didn't fare much better. "We had somebody that knew how to pick them," he said. "We had people who could find the combination."

If You Think You've Been a Victim of Theft

On its website, the TSA asks that any passengers who believe they are missing items to first check with the airport's lost and found. Then travelers can file a claim with the TSA using a standard government form.

CLICK HERE for the form and TSA directions. [Editor's Note: Several pages on the TSA website appear to be malfunctioning as of this report. For a working cached version of the TSA Forms webpage provided by Google, click here.]

If an item isn't recovered, the Consumer Travel Alliance says there are also other alternatives.

"Homeowners insurance does cover you for theft," said Charlie Leocha, director of the group. "You're covered if something is missing and you claim it's lost."

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