Thieves Prefer Stealing Black Luggage

It's obvious why if you think about it:

Thieves prefer to steal black luggage because so much of it looks alike. If the thief is caught red-handed by the bag's owner, he only has to say sorry, it looks just like mine. And he's out of there. Scott free.

Read the news story that prompted this blog post. I had no idea luggage theft could be so profitable.

Posted on November 11, 2009 at 7:44 AM • 42 Comments

Comments

ChasmosaurNovember 11, 2009 8:09 AM

This is why my luggage is almost any color but black. As suitcases die, I cruise TJ Maxx for the pumpkin, robin's egg blue, and violet colors that stand out.

My sister learned her lesson a few years ago. On an Amtrak train, the man sitting next to her who got off several stops before her took her bag by accident. They had IDENTICAL black bags, and both didn't find out until they got home. Luckily they both had contact information in there and Amtrak was nice enough to transport the bags back to their respective owners.

JohnNovember 11, 2009 8:18 AM

For similar reasons I also stuck a flag sticker on the lid of my laptop, when things get sent back through they don't always come out of x-ray machine in the order they went in.

IngvarNovember 11, 2009 8:24 AM

While I have black suitcases, they tend to travel with brightly coloured rags tied to the handle. Makes them MUCH easier to see, as they do not look like any other bag on the belt.

FrisbeeNovember 11, 2009 8:36 AM

Got a red suitcase years ago for this precise reason, and never looked back. Too many airports have unsecured luggage claim (it should be behind the security wall to minimize people from off the street).

I've always been surprised that you don't have to validate your baggage claim ticket. Wouldn't be that hard to do, since it's all bar coded anyway.

Matt SimmonsNovember 11, 2009 9:06 AM

My wife has gotten into the habit of attaching large colorful tufts of yarn to our handles. Makes it easy to spot on the belt (or running away)

FPNovember 11, 2009 9:18 AM

Only allowing passengers to enter the carousel area and validating baggage claim tickets is an obvious remedy. The former is the case in all European airports that I've been to (i.e., passengers only, but you can still pick up and walk out with any bag) but not in the US. I suspect it is so that the valet can pick up bags for their clients.

E.g., if you book a vacation package at a Disney World resort, you get a tag to put on your luggage. You then go directly to board the bus to the resort, and someone picks up and delivers your luggage.

Guess I've been lucky so far with my black suitcase. Only once was I left at the carousel with an almost identical bag. Fortunately, as I was about to make my claim, the person who walked out with mine had realized his mistake and come back.

Like with credit card fraud, it's probably cheaper for the airline to reimburse the occasional stolen bag (the $1500 per bag quoted in the article sounds high, given the small print on each ticket) than to solve the problem.

clvrmnkyNovember 11, 2009 9:21 AM

Heh. I've got the standard "charcoal" luggage, which is a pain to identify. So I went and bought a roll of florescent orange tape and used it to construct strategic markers on all faces of the luggage.

So not only can I identify it more easily, I can also tell at a distances which side is up, and which side has the most convenient handle. My luggage looks a bit like those targets they make when testing robots.

Because the world still doesn't hate Canada all that much (though, we /are/ trying) the big Canadian flag backed by more orange tape tops it all off.

I can find my luggage in near-dark.

Yeah, I do a lot of travelling.

AlbatrossNovember 11, 2009 9:31 AM

When my family traveled to Germany, we carried luggage decorated with large lavender flowers, and had no trouble at all. is this "Security By Conspicuousness"?

MNovember 11, 2009 9:38 AM


Consider the risk vs reward tradeoff.

If someone steals one suitcase, their chances of getting caught are slim. If they steal 10,000, eventually somebody will notice. (How many suitcases did these guys steal a day over how many years?)

Now how much money could they make off their ill gotten loot? It's not like suitcases are packed full of gold bricks. Used clothing goes for pennies on the dollar. Electronics can be even worse. Plus serial numbers and unique items can be traced back to you. Jewelry, cash, or other valuables are usually in carry-on luggage.

Can thieves make better than minimum wage?

PhilipNovember 11, 2009 10:04 AM

The black bag is (or was) used by international drug couriers. Two people check into a flight with identical bags -- one containing contraband, the other not. At the destination, the drug carrying person walks out through customs with no bags. The other person grabs the bag full of contraband and leaves. If he gets stopped, and the bag opened, he says (correctly) that it isn't his bag, and, indeed, the claim checks don't match.

I doubt that this scheme works any more......

uk visaNovember 11, 2009 10:05 AM

Yes, I've noticed the popularity of black suitcases - and the attendant hope/disappointment at baggage reclaim - I'd already made a mental note to choose a more vibrant and unusual colour when I buy a replacement for my trusty Samsonite. I'm glad I was on the right track for another, very good, reason as well!

bickerdykeNovember 11, 2009 10:11 AM

@FP:

When the valet picks up your baggage at the carousel, at which point do you pass costum?

bickerdyke
(who is not used to domestic flights at all)

uk visaNovember 11, 2009 10:11 AM

@Philip, I've been told that this methodology was used for many years until tagging of cases became almost universal.
I was also told that the revenue from the last few trips was used as seed funding for a popular marine charity; and that it was not a surprise that other methods favoured by smugglers were drafted in to fight for the charity's cause.
I pass it on as urban myth...

Trevor StoneNovember 11, 2009 10:29 AM

@bickerdyke If you go through customs, you get your bag at customs. Domestic luggage is out in the open, though. And it is pretty common for the people who pick you up at the airport to grab a bag or two for you.


Now if only all of my security measures came in such fashionable bright purple...

Clark CoxNovember 11, 2009 10:46 AM

That's why I edge all of my bags with florescent gaffer's tape. The bags look like nobody else's, and I can see them from hundreds of meters away.

Dj StormNovember 11, 2009 10:46 AM

Pink, green or red luggage is less likely to be taken "by mistake", but if you want to be sure, go for uncommon/unique luggage.
Two events from my past, not at airports but at railway stations:
I arrive at the station, put my luggage (a blue/white one) near a wall, and wait in the queue to buy the ticket. While buying, another man comes with a very similar blue/white luggage, puts it down near mine, and joins the queue. I left with his luggage by mistake. A minute later he runs after me saying "that's my luggage" - it was the same size and had the same colors as mine, the only difference was that his had 3 compartments, mine had two.
About a year later, I arrive at another railway station, with a white/red raffia bag, put it down near the wall where there was a similar one (slightly smaller). I kept an eye on it, and sure enough a lady, after buying her ticket, grabbed my bag by mistake.
If you look at the pictures from the linked article, you can see red, blue or other color luggage between the black ones. What you don't see is unique or otherwise marked luggage.

walterzueyNovember 11, 2009 10:50 AM

I'm waiting for everyone to come around to lavender paisley psychedelic reflective tape on their bags and go contrarian-contrarian by having my safe black luggage.

kog999November 11, 2009 11:34 AM

i dont worry about my luggage getting stolen because i have a combination lock with the unguessable combination of 12345.

ArclightNovember 11, 2009 1:38 PM

Years ago, most airports in the U.S. used to have someone standing by the doors checking your claim tag against the bag you were trying to leave with.

My guess is that all of the "post 911" security measures have made theft a very low priority vs. confiscating scissors, so that practice went away.

Arclight

GabyNovember 11, 2009 1:47 PM

The fundamental issue is, why do they even issue baggage claims checks when no one every checks them?

DomNovember 11, 2009 3:07 PM

"The investigation started three weeks after an alert police officer first observed suspicious behavior near one of the airport's luggage carousels.

Who would of guessed - good old fashion police work to uncover criminal activity. That officer should be training screeners.

Terry Jones (@terrycojones)November 11, 2009 3:45 PM

The ThiefHunters blog (first link in Bruce's snippet above) is a regular source of great information on street scams and lots of other travel related crime information. They're probably the worlds #1 experts on that sort of crime, and have gotten into & out of lots of tight corners. That's literally what they do: travel the world in search of criminals - interviewing them, filming them, learning, passing on information to those who can act on it, writing advisory books, blogging, getting the word out. *Highly* recommended. See http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/

AaronNovember 12, 2009 12:13 AM

Of course the problem with running out an buying brilliant purple luggage is that if someone wants to target your specific bag (we'll pretend you're important)... They just need to spot the bright purple bag.

Stuart MarksNovember 12, 2009 1:47 AM

It's probably incredibly rare for bags to be stolen from carousels at baggage claim. It's much more frequent for bags to be lost or for items to be stolen from bags by handlers or TSA agents. Since that happens regularly, it's not news. Now, a couple steals thousands of bags and stores them all in their 14-room house? That's news.

This couple's experience shows why bags are virtually never stolen from baggage claim. They stole thousands of bags, but they had no idea what to do with all the stuff. They filled their house with it! Sure, they might pick up a few bucks here and there from the odd laptop or camera, but for the most part it was other people's clothes and near-worthless junk. I doubt they actually made much money. I mean really, selling children's videos? Selling stuff at garage sales and swap meets? It'd take you a long time to get rich doing that. I suspect some odd compulsive behavior was at work here.

Refuse to be terrorized, folks. :-) Having your bag stolen from baggage claim isn't a credible threat.

clvrmnkyNovember 12, 2009 7:15 AM

@Aaron, if you are really important, your luggage is handled outside of the regular system anyway. Purple bag or no, the notion is that few people get physical access to it.

GaryNovember 12, 2009 11:44 AM

I've just always liked the look of dark-coloured bags. Perhaps my next ones will feature Thomas the Tank Engine, florescent luggage tags, and some stickers!

OddManOutNovember 12, 2009 12:28 PM

If 80% of all bags are black, why shouldn't we be surprised if 80% of stolen bags are black?

bobNovember 12, 2009 2:33 PM

I have a set of luggage with a brownish jungle motif specifically to make it easier to detect my luggage on the carousel (and by extension in someone else's hand going out the door).

I had never thought about someone (other than an airline or TSA employee) stealing luggage - In future when I have an issue with someone else grabbing my bag I will make a point of seeing if they actually have a ticket. (although since all the cops will be upstairs hassling legitimate passengers or out front ignoring a row of unlawfully unattended cars I'm not sure what I would do about it if they didnt).

I wish US airports would enforce a 6' "stand back" line around baggage carousels so that all of us could see what was coming off the conveyor rather than only the one or two who are halfway into the opening obscuring it from everyone else's view.

Jonadab the Unsightly OneNovember 13, 2009 6:10 AM

Pat Calahan: that sounds like something out of the scene in Arsenic and Old Lace wherein the horribly over-acted but ostensibly sane major character is attempting to convince the police not to go look at the bodies Teddy buried in the basement, by claiming that *he* buried bodies in the attic. I don't specifically remember neon lights, but he said a lot of crazy stuff, and that would fit right in.

RossNovember 13, 2009 4:51 PM

A lot of people mentioned "I put a colored scarf/string" on my suitcase handle, but I've observed that the next most common suitcase after a plain black one is a black one with some scarf/string tied to it. (It's red 90% of the time, too.) I still can't tell my wife's bag (which has red string) from half of the other suitcases.

For a decade or so I traveled with an old suitcase given to me by my grandmother. It was lemon yellow leather. Pretty sure by the late 90's it was the only one of its kind still in existence. Unmistakable.

My other grandparents used to travel with luggage that had pink stickers in the shape of feet stuck all over them. They got the stickers as one of those "put this grippy stuff in the bath tub so you don't slip" sets, and put it on their luggage. Again, another one of a kind.

Mike DNovember 16, 2009 12:52 PM

Several years ago I concluded that a significant portion of the travelling public, including myself, buys identical luggage from Costco. So I began customizing mine. Since colored ribbons and tape can come off and are getting more common anyway, I chose a more unique method. I used my grade school art skills to make a linoleum block stamp which I used to print my design on to every side of the luggage with fabric paint. It looks professional and I really like how it makes my bags unmistakable in any orientation.

Man with LanternNovember 16, 2009 1:30 PM

I've picked up the wrong suitbag and not noticed until I got home - several hours later! Not an experience I wish to relive, and I certainly feel for the person whose bag I took by mistake.

If you see a 6'4" heavyset middle-aged man walking through the airport with a hot pink suitcase, it just might be me.

rubic3November 16, 2009 3:30 PM

At San Juan (Luis Munoz Marin/SJU), they do validate your claim ticket when leaving with baggage. It seems, however, that if stealing bags were a sufficiently profitable crime, those would be easy to forge. I would tend to agree that I'm more worried about airport/airline/security employees pilfering my stuff than outsiders taking it from baggage claim. After all, they have more intimate access and would be able to sieve the valuables from dirty laundry.

Aalstair BrwonNovember 18, 2009 10:19 AM

maybe when discussing windows some people need to look up the term applocker. White listing of apps set by group policy.

I think this is a great new feature in Windows 7

Big ONovember 18, 2009 5:48 PM

The only time I ever picked up the wrong suitcase was coming back from Mexico through LA customs. The agents opened the suitcase and asked me about all the fresh fruit and women's underthings that were in there (which weren't mine). I remember going back over to the carousel, finding MY bag which was identical to the first and then being let through without challenge.

TogNovember 19, 2009 7:18 AM

I bought a bright orange Samsonite, after nearly walking off with someone else's black suitcase. More than once, I've looked out of my aircraft seat window and actually seen it trundling up the conveyor into the hold. I've only ever seen one other example in years of travelling. And yes, I nearly grabbed it.

TchmilFanNovember 30, 2009 9:02 AM

And remember there are gaps in the security of your luggage you don't see or don't expect. While work was being done on Heathrow's Terminal 4 (I think, but it may have been prelim work on Terminal 5) some luggage was being transported via long baggage truck trains that involved a tight hairpin turn at the edge of the manoeuvering pan. Of course, the drivers went as fast as they possibly could and all manner of stuff fell out of the trucks and was lost to the site's workman. Not apocryphal, I had to pretend to be amused (rather than horrified) as someone showed the £1000 bicycle they "inherited" through this method.

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