Five easy ways to tamper-proof your suitcase

By Chris C., May 7 2015
Five easy ways to tamper-proof your suitcase

Luggage tampering and theft happens all around the world – even when you’re heading to tourist-friendly destinations such as Los Angeles and New York, which were recently named as America’s two worst-ranking cities for claims of missing items from checked baggage.

Wherever your journeys may take you, here are five easy ways to make your suitcase a less attractive target to would-be thieves, giving your bags the best chance of appearing on the carousel intact.

1. Use a TSA lock in North America

When flying to, from or within the United States or Canada, your bag will need a TSA-friendly lock from either Travel Sentry or Safe Skies to allow security screening staff to open your luggage for manual inspection if required, before re-locking it.

That in itself presents a vulnerability in that an unscrupulous baggage handler may now have an easy way into your bag, but it’s a choice of somewhat securing your baggage with a TSA lock, not locking it at all, or using any other type of lock that will simply be broken off by security staff if need be.

If that lock is built into your suitcase, you bag will arrive at the other end either damaged or practically destroyed and unusable, while the contents of your bag are at the mercy of the security agent’s duct taping skills for holding everything together – so just use a TSA-friendly lock.

For the most protection, switch to a sturdier padlock sans TSA access when flying to other destinations, and if you can, opt for a lock with a ‘TSA indicator’ on those North American flights, where it’ll be clear that the bag has been opened along the way by somebody else.

2. Use numbered cable ties

In place of a padlock, some travellers swear by numbered cable ties – not so much to prevent access to their bags, but for proof that their bag has been opened while out of sight.

Numbered or ‘serialised’ cable ties give you a unique way of securing your bags as these can’t simply be replaced with one that looks the same, as the numbers on the new tag won’t match the one removed.

You may also wish to photograph your baggage with the tie attached at the check-in desk to keep on record, and for the best results, take that photo after your baggage label has been applied but before the bag disappears down the conveyer.

That way, if your bag arrives at the other end without a cable tie or with a poor replacement, you’ll have photographic proof to back up your tampering claim when speaking to airline staff and law enforcement agencies.

3. Zippered bag? Use a fixed lock

Most suitcases with zips can be opened in seconds with nothing more than a ballpoint pen: allowing its contents to be pilfered with ease.

As you can see, the bag can be zipped closed and can appear intact, yet the traveller is none the wiser until they later open the bag to discover their contents missing.

If your suitcase has a fixed lock to hold the zips in place, always use it – even if you’re relying on a hefty padlock to keep your luggage secure.

While the bag can still be opened with a pen, the zips can’t be moved and thus the bag can’t be resealed, which prevents thieves from covering their tracks.

4. No fixed lock? Try Tamperlock

Tamperlock uses a three-step process to secure your bags. First, loop a (supplied) plastic tie through the hoops in your zip and through a Tamperlock tag. Second, move the zip in line with your bag’s handle and loop that tag around the handle. Finally, seal the numbered tag in place.

Because the zip tie is attached to the Tamperlock tag – which is also connected to a fixed handle – you can only move the zipper as far as that handle allows, rather than all the way around your bag.

As with a fixed luggage lock, this prevents anybody using the ‘pen trick’ from closing the zip, and if the red tag is opened and resealed in any way, it leaves clear signs of tampering:

Just a word of caution: we tested Tamperlock and found that the supplied plastic ties which loop through the zipper were easily defeated with nothing more than a gentle tug. While your bag would still show signs of tampering, we’d still rely on a padlock to keep people out, and Tamperlock to highlight and discourage any intrusion.

5. Shrink wrap your suitcase

When travelling to destinations and airports with anecdotally high rates of theft such as Johannesburg, shrink wrapping your bag before departure at both ends of the journey is another way to deter criminals.

Not only does your bag become harder to open than those around it, it gives a clear indication – even from afar – that the contents of the bag may have been compromised.

And during inclement weather, it comes with the added bonus of water resistance for fabric suitcases left out in the rain.

You’ll find baggage wrapping stations around the check-in areas of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth international airports, but expect to pay $10-15 per bag.

Also read: Flying to the USA or Canada? Grab a TSA lock

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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1378

I tend to use a set of cheap cable ties from a $2 shop - take a bunch with me in carry-on and have a pair of scissor in one of the outside pockets of the checked bag, and tethered to a fixed point on the bag.

Chop the end to a particular length as well (for added security)

Simple tell if bag opened (unlikely to have a replacement in the same colour). Much cheaper than the numbered ones.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 136

My experience with TSA approved locks when travlling in the USA is that the TSA simply remove them and throw them away.  I've had around ten TSA locks lost this way in the last couple of years.  I don't bother anymore...BUT...I never carry anything of value in my checked luggge.

QFF Gold QC gold

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 56

I would be very embarrassed to walk around an airport with shrink wrap all over my luggage.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

04 Sep 2015

Total posts 7

Not as embarrassed as standing in a line waiting to report stolen items...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Aug 2014

Total posts 1

I have a small hard case, which I used recently travelling from Los Angeles, with built in combination TSA lock, it had been opened by the TSA, there was a form inside the bag explaining for security reasons it had been checked, but it had NOT been relocked, the zippers were not even put back in the lock, let alone the tumblers spun. Thus, when I picked up my bag the zippers were broken so now I can't lock the bag at all,thanks TSA

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

29 Jan 2011

Total posts 11

That happened to me once and I had to wait a whole year until I went back to the US. On the way home we had difficulty finding a TSA agent at the Departures level who had a spare set of keys but one made the effort to go down and get a set. He then locked the TSA lock in my Samsonite hard side.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

04 Sep 2015

Total posts 7

1. TSA lock, best way for a thief to get into luggage. What, you though only the TSA has keys?

2. As some one else points out, don't put anything worth stealing in your luggage.  If you treat it as you will never see your luggage again then your doing it right.

3. Get it wrapped if you are carrying something important, or you bag is damaged - my wifes luggaged got damaged so I repaired it as best I could and then we got it wrapped - made it all the way home from the other side of the world.

29 Sep 2015

Total posts 1

If you fly into Kathmandu your suitcase will probably be broken into. The Airport police will not be interested and they  will tell you to go to the Police in the city.. the City police will tell you  you have to go to the airport police.. the airport manager will tell you you have "lost" your valuables and they have'nt been stolen. and the Airline probably won't care either and KTM is renowned  for this.


Air New Zealand - Airpoints

04 Sep 2015

Total posts 7

None of these stop tamping, some will indicate that bags have be tampered with. TSA locks, what a joke! don't you think the crims have TSA Lock keys...

Wrapping you bag is about the best of these as the time taken to get in to the bag makes it less worth the effort.

Best thing to do, don't put valuables in your luggage.

All in all they are 5 great ways to do that. Or you could just buy a pacsafe syitcase which a ball point pen cant break through the zipper nor can the big items in your suitcase be pilfered because of the mesh underneath the suitcase fabric.

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