This scam is pulled off by two people working together to victimize a lone traveler carrying a laptop computer or other valuable carry-on baggage and approaching a metal detector. They position themselves in front of the unsuspecting passenger and stall until their mark puts the laptop on the conveyor belt.
The first hustler moves through the metal detector easily. The second deliberately sets off the detector and begins a very slow process of emptying pockets, removing jewelry, etc. While this is happening, the first hustler picks up the laptop as soon as it appears on the conveyor belt, walks away quickly, heads into the gate area, and disappears among the crowd.
When the passenger finally gets through the metal detector, the laptop is gone and there’s no way of proving the person who set off the detector with the delay tactic had anything to do with the theft. In fact, a third hustler may sometimes be involved, as he takes a hand-off from the first. This third crook takes the computer out of the restricted area before anything can be done to stop the theft (even if the passenger becomes aware of it while still waiting on the other side of the metal detector).
Another potential thief is an airport screening employee. While theft by TSA employees is not common, they have been arrested for stealing items from travelers as their items are being scanned. The following article outlines a case where this happened.
When flying with a companion make sure one of you has cleared the detector before your valuables get placed onto the conveyor belt!
When you don’t have a traveling companion and there are unavoidable lines, delay putting your luggage and laptop on the conveyor belt until you’re sure you’ll be the next person through the metal detector. And, as you move through the detector, keep your eyes on the conveyor belt and watch for your luggage and laptop to come through at the other end, while keeping a ‘sharp eye’ on what those in front of you are picking up.