Hints, learned the hard way
- I recommend having a spare credit card somewhere safe and isolated, but active, and not associated with your regular accounts. If you have your wallet stolen and you call in your cards to have them deactivated. you may be left without cash. Think about this happening at the beginning of a long holiday weekend. Without any working credit cards, how do you manage to buy food, gas and essentials with everything in your wallet gone? Without an ATM card, how do you get cash? Without ID, how do you cash a check? I had such an “emergency” card stashed away, and it was a huge help while we awaited replacement cards and ID. I buy lunch with it every few months to keep it active, and the bill paid immediately. In this instance it covered the cost for my replacement driver’s license, bought gas for my car, and covered some expenses at the post office and grocery store. (My replacement AmEx cards arrived 22 hours after I reported the originals stolen; other cards took 5 days to a week to get replaced.)
- Make up a list of credit card numbers and the toll-free number to call if they are stolen (usually on the back of the cards). Keep a copy of this in a secure location, such as in a safe. You can store it online, but make sure it is encrypted and not stored only on the disk of a system that might be stolen! I had an encrypted list stored online at Purdue, so I was able to quickly call each credit card company to cancel the cards. With one exception they were all canceled within 90 minutes of discovering them missing.
- It might not be a bad idea to keep a list of serial numbers and model numbers of electronics along with the list of credit card numbers. If the police recover the items, having the serial numbers will help to prove they are yours. Having copies of the sales receipts somewhere helps, too.
- If you had extended warranties on items stolen, see about getting a pro-rated refund. I had AppleCare on my daughter’s laptop. I am getting a refund of most of it — almost enough to cover the AppleCare on the replacement!
- If you have a theft, be sure to check your checkbook. Not only do you want to ensure it is still present, but that a check or two haven’t been removed from further down in the checkbook. Apparently this is something that more professional burglars might steal.
- Don’t assume you have documented everything missing and file all the insurance claims right away. We discovered, a week after the theft, that another item was missing — a canvas bag with sheet music in it. We surmise that it was used to carry away the laptops. We don’t use it every day, and it wasn’t something we immediately noticed as missing. But the bag and music in it were at least $100 and are going on the claim.
More to the story
Luckily, my passport was not stolen, so that along with the spare credit card enabled me to get a replacement license printed. My stolen license was only about 8 months old, so all they did was reprint it — I didn’t need to get a new picture or retake the eye test.
However, while getting the license replaced, I discovered that my passport was due to expire in 2 days! That was close, because the license bureau (and other places) will not accept an expired passport as ID. Consider that it was valid a few days ago, and that is a laminated picture of me inside, and it thus should still work in an emergency, but the clerk at the license bureau told me they could not accept it. So, I applied for a renewal passport a few days ago…another chunk of change. Sigh.
My Purdue ID was also reprinted much the same way as my driver’s license. I went into the office, gave them the PUID number (I keep that in an encrypted data file on my iPhone), and the card was reprinted in under 2 minutes. My photo matched, so I got to leave with the card. A bit of info for those of you with Purdue ID cards — the “0” (usually) after your 10-digit PUID on the card is the issue number. My card now has a “1” there. I don’t think they check this for anything.
My Starbucks card was also easily replaced. I had registered it online, so I went to the WWW site, logged in, and cancelled the stolen one. A new one was issued to me and arrived in the mail 5 days later — with my remaining $12 in credit loaded into it. I immediately bought a grande no-fat mocha to celebrate.
Worst card to lose? My CAC. It is a longer story than I will relate here as to why I have one, but it has to do with advisory boards I’m on. The problem is that the military is worried about security rather than privacy, so the cards (of the series I have) have the Social Security number and birthdate printed in big black figures on the card face: it is an identity theft kit in card form (the SSN is the military serial number for those in uniform, of “name, rank, serial number” fame). Plus, once invalidated (right after the credit cards), it means I now need to make a special trip to get a replacement card before I need it next. And I must present at least two forms of government photo ID before I can get the replacement — so I need to wait until my new passport arrives. Annoying.
Three days after the theft, we got a phone message that some of Kathy’s wallet contents had been found: scatted in mud at a park in a town about 50 miles east of here. The parks department there checked all around and in the trash bins to see if her wallet or purse had been dumped, too, but no joy. They very nicely cleaned off the cards and mailed them back to Kathy (kudos to the nice people at Parks & Recreation in Kokomo!). The mud had ruined any chance at fingerprints, and we had already canceled and replaced all the cards, but it was interesting nonetheless. In particular, the thief (or thieves) had kept the AmericanExpress and MasterCard, but abandoned the merchant cards (e.g., Sears, Macy’s). I’m told that many of those stores videotape all the registers and keep the records for a long time, so that could be it. Or else the main target was quick cash opportunities.
One of my credit cards had an attempted usage at a gas station in the same town, for $1. It was denied. The credit card company has learned that $1 purchases are often a means of testing if a stolen card is active. If it works, the card is then used to buy expensive items to resell. In this case, the charge was denied and the card never used again; it is probably in a landfill somewhere. Two of Kathy’s cards were used to buy items in Kentucky before we shut them off. According to MasterCard, they could not tell me the merchant where the cards were used — only the type of store, and town. When I called back 5 days later, they no longer had a record of the charges! (This fits with my earlier post about the cost of fraud.)
A suspect was arrested last week who may have been involved in this case. There were a string of almost a half-dozen similar burglaries in the neighborhood. The suspect was caught in possession and trying to use credit cards taken from one of those robberies. The investigation is on-going but there seems to be a strong suspicion that this suspect was behind our burglary, too. That doesn’t help recover the items or the peace of mind, but these kinds of thefts in the area are rare, and this helps. I have had multiple encounters with the West Lafayette police over the years (never in an adversarial position) and I have always been impressed with their general competence and good will. They really are a part of the community, and they also know how to do good police work.
I’m using my daughter’s old MacBook from early 2006. I installed a new battery and a new, larger disk, and it is a passable substitute, although verrrrry slooooow compared to my missing machine. I am going to use this until January, when Apple is rumored to refresh their MacBook Pro line with newer processors. Then I will order a replacement. Purdue’s insurance will cover about half the cost whether I buy it then or now, so I figure I will wait. In the meantime, I will be stuck without all my files and programs, and without all my email capabilities. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all?