A thief targeting travelers might not need to break into your suitcase to rob you—the thief might simply open your bag with a master key. That’s because master keys used by Transportation Security Administration employees to open luggage locks for inspections have become publicly available.
How it happened: High-resolution photos of the master keys were published by the Washington Post last year. That photo and a 3-D printer were all that lock-picking hobbyists needed to produce duplicate master keys. They posted their files online, and now anyone who has access to a 3-D printer can make a master key. Any luggage lock with the TSA’s red-diamond logo is vulnerable.
Even without the keys, most luggage locks are extremely vulnerable, even to thieves armed with nothing more than a ballpoint pen. But the keys make it even easier to abscond with some of the contents, possibly when your luggage is out of your sight at an airport, en route to your hotel room or in a storage room.
What to do: Use luggage locks anyway because they still deter amateur crooks and reduce the odds that bags will pop open accidentally during transport. Consider choosing a “SearchAlert” lock, available at some luggage stores and travel-security websites for $12 to $15. These have a tiny window that turns from green to red if the bag is opened with a master key. That would make it obvious that someone has unlocked the bag and should prompt you to check to see whether anything is missing. If something is missing, immediately alert your airline or hotel and ask how to receive compensation.