A Day in the Life of a Pro SFO Luggage Thief

Ina Yosun Chang
5 min readNov 21, 2022


Three weeks ago, on Saturday night, my luggage got stolen from the carousel at SFO T2. It was not supposed to be there, as it was a gate checked carry-on (for jet bridge dropoff-pickup) — they asked for volunteers to gate check their carryon — and I had expected to get it back at the gate after landing, but was told on landing it was on the carousel — I had not packed it for the carousel. It had an old iPhone in it, and so I watched on Find My iPhone — with dread — as it crept away from the terminal, into the driveway, in tow with a heartless thief.

Wait, why is one of my device slowly moving away from me…? OMG, that’s the thief!

For the next 24 hours or so, watching where my iPhone stayed for a few hours, I would get to know the thief as a real person, who does normal people things — despite being a professional criminal.

Note: iPhones on iOS 15 and later still track location even when out of batteries, as long as they are near other iOS devices — such as the billions of iPhones in the big world out there.

The location meandered from SFO towards South SF (new jurisdiction police notified), and then up the freeway exiting in SOMA. It stopped at street parking on 4th next to the Metreon around 10:30 PM for about 2 hours.

We traced it down to the 4 cars parked there, and left a note on the car with the Penn license plate and the solid black tinted windows (even the front windows were 100% tinted, when it should be only 30% in California). We left a note with my number on it, hoping that the thief might be a good person. But, alas, he never called me back. :-(

Shortly after we left, Find My showed my iPhone moving again. (Maybe it was that suspicious looking party who saw me put the note on their car, who dared not approach us, oddly, thief avoiding confrontation with the victim.)

According to Find My, the thief went right back to SFO T3 to grab more luggage to steal. They were there for a few hours, and SFO police were notified again. It was there until around 5 AM, when I fell asleep.

When I woke up at 9 AM, Find My showed that it was at Planet Fitness in Daly City. I suppose the thief is someone who works out. It was there until 11:15 AM, when it started to move again. It drove right by the Colma Police Station. And then, it went dark.

The last location it sent was 1:43 AM, back at SFO, but it’s the wrong terminal — it’s at International — likely on a int’l flight that just departed.

Of course, this is the heart sinking element — like when Rose in Titanic threw her emerald iPhone down into the ocean — I’d not be seeing it again. Activation Locked iPhones reported as stolen can’t be used in the US. So I supposed it was exchanged and sold to the international black market of offline iPhones.

Lost. Forever. RIP.

And there you have it, a day in the life of a professional luggage thief. Saturday night: steal luggage from SFO T2. Drive through town. Watch a 10:30pm movie at the Metreon. Drive back to SFO, but let’s try T3 this time to steal more luggage. Go to gym in Daly City around 9 AM. Drive past a police station. Sell the iPhone and get paid, to retain status as a pro luggage thief (not like those amateurs!).

Total driving time: about 1 hour in no traffic. Google Maps route here.

In conclusion, can we say that the pandemic is over — at least for the luggage criminals of the travel industry? I unwittingly became one of the first victims of the re-start of luggage theft at the carousel. I wonder what they did for most of the pandemic, and I just wish they could do something more productive as a capital-gaining career. Obviously the thief is a normal dude who does normal dude things, other than stealing people’s luggage. I am saddened that luggage theft remains their preferred or more lucrative market.

Next time: I hope that the SFO police is able to have their cameras working at a usable resolution, so that when given the Find My location and timestamps, they could at least pull up footage. I was dismayed also that SFO International could not do better to check the serial numbers on stolen iPhones, and would just allow the thief to check in a bunch of stolen iPhones in luggage.

The engineer-entrepreneur part of me wants to start yet another new company, this time upgrading the police security cameras with better retrieval UI and basic ML/computer vision capabilities — so that when given just a few coordinates, they could identify the similarities. However, the defeatist in me wonders if, maybe they just don’t even care about solving crimes where I guess no one died. Meanwhile, the artist in me is dealing with this trauma via the odd habit of graffiti-ing designer items I own with equations (so that the next thief who decides to steal my stuff at least learns something from me) — and will be making the new luggage I get something that will really stand out, the next time it gets grabbed.

Alexis Bittar leather purse decked out with useful equations — Spherical Harmonics

Many thanks to the lovely patron at the SFMOMA Joan Brown member lounge event on Thursday evening, for inspiring me to write this article.



Ina Yosun Chang

{wonder, innovation, elegance} ∈ a hacker's take on augmented reality, 3d graphics, mobile iOS and Android dev, startups, COOL STUFF and life