Recently we received an email from a woman who’s been trying to get compensation for several thousand dollars’ worth of jewelry that was stolen from her luggage by, she believes, the TSA. The TSA rifled through her luggage, which she knows because they left a note behind. You might have seen those notes; not as clever as “Kilroy was here,” but they get the point across. (Then again, TSA agents also leave other kinds of notes, admonishing people for their vibrators or for their marijuana.) We have permission to use the woman’s name: Michelle Trimmell. Here’s her story. I have edited somewhat for length:
I am a military spouse living on Oahu for the 2nd time in the 24 years
we’ve mutually served. I am prior Air Force and my husband is active
duty and our son is now active duty as well. We took a trip to visit
our son in May in Germany. On this trip over $6,000 worth of personal
jewelry was stolen out of my luggage by (I believe) a TSA inspector.
I know this because the bag was inspected en route and marked as such,
and when I picked it up in Germany, the jewelry was gone. Aside from
my own mistake of putting it in my checked baggage, I can’t believe
this has happened. TSA is denying my claim after 5 months of waiting
for their response.
I’m writing you because I found out in the interim that this is a very
big problem. Below is a link to an article (one of many) that I’ve
read about the huge number of thefts taking place by TSA employees.
The general public is supposed to be protected by cameras when
inspections occur. However, as one article states the cameras are
typically inoperable. TSA provided no information to me as far as
what they did or did not do regarding the investigation. In one
article I read, a prior employee makes it very clear that this is a
huge money maker for TSA employees and no one gets caught.
Every piece was given to me over the course of 24 years
and held some sort of sentimental value . . . If I cannot recoup at
least monetarily my loss, I want to be an instrument to address this
awful problem. The TSA claims representative, Joyce Black, told me
herself that she encounters hundreds and hundreds of claims daily!
That is an admittance that they have a very large number of thefts
taking place within TSA, yet no one is doing anything. They tell you
right up front that they are allowed 6 months to investigate your
claim yet you are also informed that they do not keep the video data
they have very long because they don’t have and I quote, “the space.”
I kept all of my correspondence with TSA and paperwork if you care to follow up.
I provided years worth of pictures of me wearing this jewelry, answered innumerable and often redundant emails, my husband is a witness, and I have no reason to lie to these folks. I am willing to take a lie detector test or whatever is necessary.
I cannot afford the $10,000 my attorney wants to appeal this. Most people probably can’t afford to fight TSA and I’m sure they are aware of that.
. . . I have created a Facebook page called TSA Victims . . . .
Michelle Trimmell then sent me a string of email exchanges between her and the TSA, along with copious receipts and other documentation. In a nutshell, and I know this will come as a shock, the TSA is stonewalling.
Since we’ve been writing about the prevalence of TSA theft for years, and since TSA screeners themselves have admitted that theft is rampant, we’re not surprised by Trimmell’s experience. Just ask Pythias Brown. Or Pete Alexion. There are also thousands of accounts of theft and other crimes in the Master List, as well as in the comments sections of this blog.
It is also possible that airline baggage handlers, and not the TSA, stole Trimmell’s jewelry; I don’t know. But I do know that the TSA’s prohibition against passengers’ locking their luggage is facilitating theft, theft by whomever. And the fact that the TSA left a note in her suitcase means, at the very least, that if TSA agents themselves didn’t steal the stuff, they allowed someone else to. Therefore, they are still responsible.
I can only say to Michelle Trimmell that I’m sorry this happened to her and that I don’t hold out any hope of her being compensated. Cold comfort, I know. At least other people have the benefit of insurance, such as Alban Gerhardt, whose $20,000 cello bow was wrecked by the TSA.
Oh, and before the naysayers jump in and berate her for packing her valuables in checked luggage, let me repeat, again, what we’ve reported so many times: packing valuables in your carry-on is no guarantee of anything. The TSA also steals from people’s carry-ons. So please don’t get on your high horse and lecture Michelle Trimmell on savvy traveling.
If you’re really savvy, you might try this ingenious method of locking your belongings to each other, which we posted in January of 2013.