Jewelry Heist Alerts Passengers to Baggage Theft

James Campbell knows he can’t stop every thief who might dip into his luggage. But he’s discovered a low-cost deterrent to sticky fingers at the airport: Nylon cable ties.

“These people want to get into a bag quick and get it out,” said Campbell, a retired bank executive who lives in Chesterfield County.

“These will slow them down.”

Zippers, which are replacing lockable latches on luggage, have created more opportunities for quick-hit crooks with access to baggage areas.

This was shown recently when a baggage handler at Richmond International Airport was convicted of stealing more than $50,000 in jewelry, mostly from soft-sided suitcases with zippers.

David Jackson, 39, a former employee of Delta Staffing Services, was sentenced to 12 months in jail Sept. 12 for a series of thefts over five months. As a contract worker for Delta Air Lines, Jackson helped load and unload baggage in areas off-limits to the public.

Capt. Craig McLean of the airport police in Richmond said it was the first theft of this type in recent years.

Jackson targeted “the standard, pull-it-behind-you soft-sided bags” favored by many travelers, McLean said.

Withstanding Swiss Army Knives

Campbell, the retired banker, thinks his nylon-tie technique could have prevented the thefts.

“I know that my luggage is not as safe as the gold in Fort Knox, but these cable ties are an impediment,” he said. “The thief will soon learn that getting into our bags is not simply a matter of unzipping, but rather an exercise in minor surgery.”

Campbell demonstrated the strength of the ties, which withstood snips from his Swiss Army Knife.

The nylon ties are available in the electric supply section of most hardware or discount stores. Campbell ties them around zippers at their joints, locking them in place.

Some security officials questioned whether the ties could backfire by tipping off crooks, but Campbell said he’s found a way around that: He snips off the ties, so the nylon is hard to spot from a distance.

The technique does come with a caveat: It requires the passenger to carry a small pair of wire cutters in carry-on luggage. Otherwise, it’s impossible to open the bags upon arrival.