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Theft of Mobile Devices Is On the Rise At Airports and In Airplanes. Here are Some Strategies to Keep Your Possessions Safe

Some 50% of the thefts in North America today involve mobile devices. That’s right: there are few more coveted prizes for criminals today than the laptop, phone or tablet you’re likely reading this article on. And we’re seeing a marked increase in the pilfering of these gadgets at airports and even on planes.

That’s the conclusion that the folks at Absolute Software have come to. This 20-year-old company provides “lojacks” for all of these sorts of gadgets, software that makes them easier to track once the object has been stolen because (Absolute claims) their programs can’t be erased. In addition to supplying software, Absolute works with law enforcement agencies to recover the stolen devices. In 2012, the company worked on 12,000 investigations around the globe. Recently, officials studied the data from those investigations (and from previous years) to see what they could learn. The trends are disturbing.

According to Absolute, thefts that take place onboard planes now account for 24% of the travel-related incidents they investigate, up from 18% in 2011. Checking one’s luggage isn’t any safer, though: 24% of thefts were inside jobs, done after the luggage was checked. And 18% of the incidents that Absolute tracked occurred during the security screening process, right at the lip of the airport.

It’s unthinkable, or at least it is for me, to travel without mobile devices. So what strategies should travelers be taking, when they fly, to protect their precious gizmos? Not surprisingly, the smartest tactic is the simplest: keep an eye on your mobile device at all times. Ward Clapham, a former police superintendant who is now a executive at Absolute Software, notes that once a traveler has used that device in a public setting he’s made himself a target. “The strongest message is: if you advertise that you have a mobile device when you’re in the airport, you’ve just shown thieves that you have an item of value. So, if I’m a thief, I’m now I’m paying attention to you, to catch you when you’re not paying attention, so that I can steal it.” Clapham advises travelers to never leave their devices In the overhead bin of an airplane, or on your chair when you get up to use the restroom or stretch your legs. “The device should be with you at all times,” warns Clapham.

But what about the security line, when you will, because of the screening process, be separated from your carry-on luggage and laptops will be exposed in the plastic tray? Clapham suggests that, if you’re traveling with someone else, you split up in the line, so that one person can go on ahead to watch for the carry-ons as they come through, while the second person feeds them into the machine. Those who are traveling alone are advised to be vigilant, keeping an eye on their property for as long as they can.

Attaching your information to the outside of a mobile devices, so that nobody can claim they picked up yours by accident, is another excellent way to deter thieves. There are a number of companies that now sell stickers, encoded with your information, that are very difficult to remove.

Of course, where you’re flying will also impact how likely you are to become a victim of theft. According to Absolute, thefts are higher in United States’ airports than in the airports of Asia or Europe, particularly the Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami and Phoenix airports.

Clapham, who was in charge of the policing at both Vancouver and Calgary airports for a number of years, notes that people tend to drop their guard when traveling. “They feel a sense of extra security at the airport, because of all the officials there, and they forget about the basics of personal safety,” notes Clapham. “But you have to be on you’re A game when you’re traveling.”

“And remember, mobile devices are expensive! You wouldn’t stand in the middle of a public area and wave 5 hundred dollar bills in the air above your head. But when you leave your laptop or phone sitting on a chair in the terminal while you wander off to get a snack is doing exactly the same thing as waving those bills in the air. Be vigilant!”