Thieves Suck: How to Protect Yourself When Your Stuff Is Stolen
Sunday evening while I was out for a jog, my car was broken into and my purse was stolen.
By some miracle of paranoia, I happened to have both my cell phone and wallet with me on the run, not for fear of them getting jacked, but because I'm always worried I might get lost, or need my ID if I get hit by a car while running, or might need a few bucks to buy a bottle of water midway through.
So the burglars did not get any cash out of me, but what they did get was my favorite purse, and inside it a first generation iPad (ouch), my Leatherman knife, a notebook with about a year's worth of writing in it (also ouch) and a brand-new $30 tube of Dior lipstick. I know that sounds like a white whine, but I hope whoever made off with my stuff looks faaaaabulous in my little indulgence there.
So more than anything, this crime has been an exercise in hassle management, from arranging to get my car window fixed to obsession about the data on my stolen iPad. Here's what I've learned that might help you in the event your wallet ever gets pick-pocketed, your car gets broken into or your stuff gets otherwise stolen.
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1. Disable your data At first I was relieved my wallet wasn't stolen with the rest of my stuff, since we all know that canceling even one credit card is a monumental bother. Then I remembered everything on my iPad, from e-mail passwords to billing data in my iTunes account to personal contact info for over 100 friends and family. Luckily I had registered with Apple's free Find My iPhone service, which allowed me to remotely lock my device, track it to an apartment complex dumpster on the south side of town, send a text message that said, "Do not purchase this device. It has been stolen," and to eventually do a complete wipe of the entire system.
The only catch? You have to register for the program BEFORE your stuff gets stolen. Apple's service works for iPhones and iPads, but a number of similar services are available for other devices and smartphones, including Prey Project for laptops and FindR for Android phones, just to name a few.
2. Contact the credit agencies If your personal info gets stolen -- say, your credit cards and social security card in your wallet -- you might be concerned with identity theft. The three major credit reporting agencies will allow you to instigate a 90-day fraud alert on your credit profile, wherein you'll be notified for approval in the event that anyone tries to open an account in your name.
Thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, passed in 2003, U.S. citizens are also eligible for a free credit report every year, provided by the three major credit reporting agencies. If you happen to catch the theft late, or slack in reporting your items as stolen, you can also run this report to make sure no funny business has taken place on your account.
The first agency I contacted offered to pass the fraud alert on to the other two agencies as well, so the effort was minimal on my part.
3. Check Craigslist At this point you've probably lost all hope of ever getting your laptop or musical equipment back, and the police have likely filed your report waaaay in the back of their desks. Burglary is, after all, small potatoes compared to other crimes. But if you ever want to have a chance of replacing your stuff, there's a few things you should do. The first is call your insurance company. In my case, the cost to merely replace my window would have been less than my deductible, but add to that the cost of what was stolen, and it's worth it to me to file a claim.
Secondly, make sure the police know the serial numbers of what you had stolen. They go into a database that is available to pawn shops and other resellers that will alert them that your goods are hot.
Third, you can always check Craigslist and eBay. Not that we advocate going up against the criminals on your own, but you never know. Marc Brubaker, a Houston Press photographer, recovered at least some of his stolen stuff, which included two computers and a lot of photo equipment, by going to the home of the man who was selling it on Craigslist. How did he know it was his stuff? He had the serial numbers.
Have you been through a similar ordeal? If so, leave your own tips in the comments. Crime sucks. Let's fight it together.