Is CES a thieves' paradise?

The massive consumer electronics trade show attracts all sorts of visitors, including thieves

The International CES is packed to the rafters with the latest in shiny, often expensive high-tech gadgets, so it's no surprise that theft is a problem for companies exhibiting at the show.

Several vendors who rent space on the show floor said they had been victims of crime over the past week. They were mostly incidents of petty theft, or petty larceny as it's called in the state of Nevada, though one company said its booth had been broken into overnight.

Las Vegas police say it's hard to get a fix on the amount of crime at the show, since some incidents go unreported and others are reported only to security guards hired to work at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"If we don't see a report filed, it basically didn't happen," said Detective Vinnie Jones of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's Tourist Crimes Unit.

Unirex, which sells portable sound systems, memory sticks and other gadgets, clears its stand each night and locks the goods in an office at its booth. But earlier this week, thieves broke into the office, apparently with a screwdriver, and stole audio systems and other products.

The booth is supposed to be guarded at night by security guards, said a Unirex executive who asked not to give his name. The guards told the company that the theft may have been by cleaners who work overnight to prepare the convention halls for the next day, the executive said.

GoPro, which makes the sporty point-of-view cameras popular among skiers and cyclists, held a giveaway at its booth Thursday morning that attracted a big crowd. When the crowds thinned out, the company discovered someone had cleared away most of the products hanging on one of its displays.

The thief stole GoPro accessories rather than the cameras themselves, probably to the tune of about US$500, said a representative. Like several people interviewed for this story, she preferred not to give her name because she was not authorized to speak for her company.

"People get a little 'hands-y'" at the show, said Daniel Moon, global product manager for iLuv, who said accessories such as ear buds were stolen from the iLuv booth on Wednesday.

Christopher Kooistra, director of marketing services for Cobra, which sells police radars and two-way radios, said an iPod Touch was stolen from Cobra's booth one night this week. It was tethered to a case, like many of the gadgets on the CES show floor, but the thief broke the case, he said.

Most exhibitors take precautions against theft.

The Unirex executive said his company displays only mock-up memory devices, some of which have been stolen in years past. "We only put out dummies, so the dummy is the guy who takes them," he said.

He said he'd been coming to CES for 17 years and that this year's break-in was the first serious incident for the company. He declined to put a value on the goods stolen but said they were mostly small audio boxes.

Pentax Imaging started using a new security system this year to protect its cameras, after some were stolen in years past. This year, it tethered its cameras to a long wooden board that it can lock away at night.

Police are aware that theft is a problem at CES and in years past have left a laptop with a tracking device lying around in a bid to entrap thieves, Jones said.

Only one crime had been reported to police as of Thursday, he said, but security staff had notified him of three others and Jones said he may hear about more in the coming days. In the incident reported, a thief stole an iPad that was left on a bench and took it to a nearby pawn shop, but the shop refused to buy after calling the owner's number, which was etched on the back of the iPad. Police later obtained a copy of the thief's driving license from the pawn shop.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on CES and hires security staff for the show, did not respond to requests for comment Friday before this story was published.

Like other big trade shows, CES appears difficult to secure. The day before the event, huge doors are open on all sides of the building to allow fork lift trucks to enter, and an army of workmen prepare the space while televisions and other goods are delivered to booths.

Stealing even big items might not be difficult, though none of the vendors reported major thefts this week. Cobra has a Ferrari parked in its booth to attract visitors, and it disconnected the battery this week, partly for safety reasons but also as a deterrent to theft, Kooistra said.

A few vendors said they suspected cleaning staff for the thefts but none presented evidence of that. Another said security guards hired to watch over their booths at night are not diligent enough. Last year, a security guard at the press broadcast center used by IDG News Service was found asleep one evening in an empty room.

"These guys probably make $12 an hour; why would they care what happens?" said a representative at the Hisense booth.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is

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