Airline Theft Alert: Passengers Are Stealing Cash From Overhead Bins – Here’s How To Protect Yourself

A passenger on a Singapore Airlines flight from Hong Kong to Singapore has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for stealing nearly $90,000 from another man on board, out of the overhead bin.

The Chinese citizen was charged with theft, carrying undeclared cash of over $14,783.44 (SGD $20,000) into the country, converting stolen funds into casino chips, and also wire fraud for trying to transfer the funds to China.

  • These are actually lesser charges that he’s pled to. Singapore doesn’t mess around.

  • 54-year old Peng Hui noticed the victim on board flight SQ899 on March 5th placing cash into a bag in the overhead.

  • He took the money out of the man’s backpack while he slept. That man actually declared the cash he no longer had on arrival at Singapore Changi airport.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 Economy Cabin

There are several lessons here. Singapore will catch you. They have cameras. They’re watching. Don’t try to launder stolen funds at a casino there. Also, anyone with money in China wants to get it out. Don’t send money that is already out back to mainland China.

In entering his plea he sough leniency because he has only one kidney, though he did not claim that his lack of a kidney caused him to steal money.

Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 Coach Cabin

Theft during travel happens all the time, but there are cameras all over the airport. Unless you control the cameras, or rely on inefficient bureaucracies (not Singapore) you aren’t going to get away with it. TSA screeners steal from passengers at checkpoints. One TSA screener even stole a CNN camera and sold it on eBay (he got caught because he forgot to remove the CNN stickers first).

Baggage handlers steal from checked bags. oneworld’s head of finance allegedly stole $2.2 million. And a former Miss USA stole noise cancelling headphones.

I’ve even reported on a ring of thieves stealing from passenger bags in the overhead bin just like this case. An Emirates flight attendant even stole from passengers who weren’t holding onto their wallets. And of course people steal lingerie out of luggage, too.

Here are some things you can do to avoid being a victim yourself,

  • Don’t let your items out of sight at the security checkpoint. If a screener wants to move you away, insist that you be allowed to watch your stuff, that you can collect your belongings or that they bring your items to you.

  • Mark your bags clearly and don’t use luggage that looks like everyone else’s bags, because sometimes theft is inadvertent (and when someone realizes they have the wrong bag they may not return it).

  • Board early enough to get overhead bin space above your head, so you’re more likely to notice someone taking your belongings during the flight.

  • Carry the most valuable items on your person, or in a bag that remains underneath the seat in front of you.

What do you do to protect yourself while at the airport or on board?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I actually put my luggage into the overhead bin across the aisle and in front of me. That way, I have a clear line of vision to whomever opens the compartment containing my bag. If it’s in the overhead above me, I’m aware of when it’s being accessed, but can’t see what the person might be taking out (or putting into) my bag.

  2. Ladron que roba ladron tiene cien años de perdon.
    A robber who robs a robber has a hundered years of forgiveness. Sounds better in Spanish.

  3. Easy solution is to set Mouse-Traps in one’s carry-on bag . Just under pajamas , for example , for when the robber moves his hand underneath .

    So good to hear the howl of surprise .

  4. A money belt saved me on a bus in Colombia when a very light fingered person got into my pockets, one place where I kept very little cash. My mother also taught me that when on a line always keep one foot on your bag. Not only will you be sure to keep it close and beside or in front of you, but if it is moved you’ll feel that immediately.

  5. In addition to the sentence you listed he almost certainly was subjected to caning since that is almost standard for theft related offenses. Personally I love Singapore’s justice system and would give up some of our rights in US if it meant we had as low crime rate as they do. Was there in February and loved it. Also can pretty much go anywhere, anytime without worry of crime due to camera’s everywhere (and encouraging citizens to turn others in) plus tough sentences.

  6. Everything from my pockets goes into a locked compartment in my bag before it goes through the security scanner. I’m insistent about going through at the same time as my bag and watching it on the other end. On a plane, anything in the overhead compartment gets locked, too, but there wouldn’t be anything of value up there anyway. If I have a personal item at my seat, that’s locked as well.

    In pilfer-prone places, Clothing Arts Pick-Pocket-Proof Convertible Travel Pants.


  7. Candidly, the odds of having something stolen from a carry-on bag in an overhead bin — even one you can’t see during flight — is approximately zero. I would think the odds of getting struck by lightning are higher. That said, if I was carrying large amounts of cash or other valuables, I’d keep an eye on my stuff. Common sense.

  8. The crook will NOT be caned. He is 54 years old according to Gary’s article. That exempts him from caning.

    If money is kept in the overhead compartment, it shouldn’t be put in the side zipper because many people put valuables there. Instead, keep it deep inside the main compartment and snap a lock on it.

  9. On a southwest flight exiting from both front and rear was getting out of window seat and couldn’t find my overhead bag. Looked in back of plane saw well dressed middle age man with bag in each hand. One was clearly mine. I shouted for FA to stop him, she just smiled. I did force my way back and got bag. Man apologized, said thought was his which obviously made no sense. Still can’t believe the SW attendant did nothing to help.

  10. @Barnett … Cannot blame the FA for caution for personal safety . Did you summon the police ? Police are trained and equipped to handle such complaints , not FA .

  11. You forgot to mention that President Biden had a the deputy assistant secretary (Samuel Brinton) who was caught stealing luggage from airport carousels.

  12. Lock your bag. It’s a big hindrance for the sneak-thief like this even though it does nothing about your bag walking away.

    That being said, if I were transporting something like that it would be on my body, under my clothes. I’ve worn a money belt (wide enough that the money could lie flat) for months while in sticky-finger territory.

  13. My strategy is a shabby black bag with peeling blue painters tape around the handles to differentiate it. Nobody would want it or think it held anything of value, which it does not. Keep your cash and valuables with you at your seat.

  14. I do nothing to protect my stuff at the airport nor on board. Nothing ever got stolen after thousands of flights all over the world over many decades. These things are relatively rare and shouldn’t make you paranoid. Only theft I’ve experienced was a pickpocket who took my debit card in Rome lol. Live your life with ease folks, it’ll be over all too soon.

  15. @Chris, that is brilliant, though it can run foul of the “space above this row is for this row” folks.

  16. I had a problem with my backpack (only carryon I ever use) unzipping itself when I moved briskly. The easy temporary solution was zip ties. I put nail clippers in a pocket in the bag. (No, I never use them to trim nails on a plane.) I put everything of value in a section that gets closed with a zip tie prior to TSA and can just leave them zipped in until I arrive at the hotel/home. Now that we’re allowed to grab our carryon during emergency evacuation, no problem.

  17. 1. Never bring loads of cash with you. Almost every legit place accepts cc.
    2. The cash you do bring keep on your person, preferably in a place that’s hard to pick pocket.
    3. Try to have a decoy wallet or something with a couple of dollars and some expired club memberships to Target etc. to throw off any would be thief.
    4. Keep on checking (in private to see if you’ve been robbed.
    5. Never take out your cash in public. Even for a second. Even in a “safe” place.

  18. I have had money stolen out of my tote bag in an overhead bin as I wasn’t able to watch as I am a Flight Attendant. Probably happened when I was doing beverage service. Now I lock my tote bag. I never expected anyone to go into my bag, open my wallet and take all my money. I only had $25, but still.

  19. In Chicago, people are carrying dummy wallets to give to the holdup crews that roam the city at will. More likely to be held up than have something stolen at O’Hare.

  20. Two points..
    1. I do the same as Chris- Luggage in the overhead bin across the aisle, one row in front with the zippers facing inward so if anybody wanted to remove anything that have to take out the whole bag
    2. Companies like Clothing Arts make wonderful pickpocket proof trousers, shorts, and jackets. Going through the airport, I keep all my documents in a neck pouch tucked inside my shirt and as soon as I no longer need them, I put them in a huge pickpocket proof pocket in my trousers where they stay until my destination. Also, I divide up my money and credit cards Between the lining Of my carry-on And a travel wallet That stays in a trouser in Pocket. Am I paranoid? Yes. As a child, I put my hand into my pocket while on a bus in Rome and found somebody else’s hand there already! :-))

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