How To Get Your Mac Back When The TSA Steals It From You

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On a vacation with his wife and kids recently, Paul Deas opened his suitcase and found a rude surprise: his MacBook had been stolen. Not only that, but the thief had helpfully left him a note inside, telling him exactly who had robbed him: TSA Agent 5414.

Paul eventually got his MacBook back, but his post on the matter is interesting food for thought, not only because it reveals just how common TSA theft is (there’s millions of Google results for “TSA Theft”) but how, even if you get your MacBook back, you’re not likely to catch the person who actually stole it.

In Paul’s case, when he discovered his MacBook had been stolen, he used Find My Mac to locate it and lock the laptop down. He then went to his local UPS location to mail an empty box to the address where the MacBook had been tracked to, a few miles from the airport where it had been stolen. Inside the box was a message, “Return my laptop or we’ll call the police.”

Paul got the laptop back eventually, but it’s a typical story: the guy who returned the laptop had actually bought it from someone on Craigslist, who promptly disappeared when the Mac locked down. So while Paul got his laptop back, the guy who purchased it was out $650.

As for the TSA Agent? Turns out “5414’ was just a bunch of random numbers, and there’s no telling, apparently, who actually inspected Paul’s case… and therefore, no telling who stole his laptop.

There’s a lot of clear warnings here. Don’t put your valuable computer equipment (or, indeed, anything valuable) in your check-in luggage. If you buy a used MacBook off of Craigslist, check for ownership. But it’s still disheartening that we live in an age where an organization that is meant to keep us safe in the sky is, instead, abusing their power to rob us blind.

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  • Jdsonice

    Most TSA agents are good folks. A few bad apples (pun intended) are making the entire service look bad. I wish there was a way to weed these people out and send them to jail. The thing to do is to file complains withe TSA.

    And of course never put anything valuable in your checked baggage.

  • tatseod

    I have two problems with this article. First, there’s no proof someone from TSA stole the laptop. It could have been a baggage handler (or anyone else who has access to luggage in the secure area) who either printed up fake TSA notes or stole TSA notes and made up a fake number. Second, the number of Google results is not an accurate measure of how widespread a problem actually is. People could be referencing an article that blames TSA without proof (like this one).

    Really- who leaves their laptop in checked baggage?

  • TechBell

    Who packs a laptop into checked luggage? Really?

  • HerbalEd

    Perhaps the author was trying to be cute … although he’s failed miserably …. but his title blaming TSA for the theft is very reckless and stupid. He has no way of knowing who the thief was and yet he so easily trashed the TSA.

    My guess … and it’s only a guess … is that the thief planted a fake TSA note in hopes the owner would think it was confiscated … not stolen. Actually as I read the title and the first part of this story, I was starting to assume that the TSA did confiscate the computer.

  • Turtle Heart

    I live in Italy these days. They never open your bags up unless you are present. Even in transit, if someone wants to look in your bag, they have you show up at the inspection point. This whole story comes about because there is a whole American policy of opening luggage outside of the owners presence, which seems an invitation to criminal behavior. America has taken paranoia to entirely new levels.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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