10 lessons I learned from having my purse stolen

Last weekend, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, someone stole my purse. When I told my mom this the next day, she said, “Well, I hope you learned something from all this.” At first, that really pissed me off — someone had stolen my stuff, and she was chiding me. After I simmered down, however, I realized she was right — this whole experience has taught me quite a bit, and maybe some of this information can help other people prevent a theft or be better prepared if they experience a theft (or just lose their wallet/purse).

1. Watch. Your. Stuff.

This was the obvious lesson my mom was hoping I learned, as the thief didn’t directly steal the purse from me, but snatched it from the table I set it on when I wasn’t looking. This seems like an obvious lesson to already know, but people grow a little too trusting. And people grow not very observant — my friends and I were at a bar, which wasn’t very crowded, and the purse was on a table right next to us. Between the five or six of us there, no one saw anyone come by and take it.

And this kind of theft — the kind where you don’t see someone take anything or it wasn’t physically taken from you — is classified as “lost property” to the police, which makes it even lower on the rung of priorities. It also makes it much more frustrating as the owner of said property, because I know that I didn’t “lose” anything, but I also know that in the eyes of the law, I lost it because I put it in an “insecure” location. Holding onto your stuff is a preventative measure that’s easy to take — I looked away for five or 10 minutes at the most, and it was gone. This goes for coats, too, if you put important stuff in the pockets when you go out.

2. Cancel your cards — immediately

I sent a very colorful and anxiety-ridden e-mail to my older brother as soon as I got to a computer, and he immediately responded that I needed to “calm down” and that cancelling my credit cards was a little bit drastic. I’m sure that this was because he didn’t know the situation, but it turned out that immediately canceling those cards was the right choice — someone tried to use my credit card that very night, but it was declined because I’d already canceled it.

3. File a police report

I was really hedging on filing a police report — I knew that the police wouldn’t be able to do anything, as the purse was long gone and it wasn’t physically taken from me, but snatched indirectly. It seemed like a lot of hassle for nothing, and I was already stressed out enough being without my ID, cash, and any access to my finances. But it was actually my boyfriend who convinced me to do it, and I’m glad he did.

He made a good argument — sure, they probably wouldn’t be able to do anything with this case, but simply letting them know there was a theft means that it’s on the books. If no one filed police reports, the statistics would falsely show that the city is without crime, and problems wouldn’t be known about or addressed. It serves a community purpose to report crimes, and it could add to highlighting a specific crime that is increasingly common or crime in a certain area that is growing.

You should cover all your bases to track down your stuff, and you’ll also feel better knowing there’s an official record of the theft.

4. Keep some spare cash or a credit card at home

One of the worst things about someone stealing my purse is that I lost the cash I had with me, all my debit/credit cards, and my ID — I had no way to pay for anything. What I should’ve always had was a rainy day envelope of money in my house, so that if something like this did happen, I’d have the spare stash to use until the ID, debit, and credit card were replaced. Even a spare credit card would work — just something to tide me over.

Also, some banks will issue temporary debit cards from the actual branch locations (Chase does this) to tide you over til the new one comes in the mail, which would be extremely helpful, and other banks don’t issue temporary debit cards from the actual branch locations (Bank of America mails temporary debit cards — that is extremely dumb and counterintuitive, since they are mailing the regular debit card, too), which would not be very helpful at all. Anyway, that’s another path you could try if you lose your card or it’s stolen.

5. Debit gift cards — write that number down

If you’ve ever gotten a debit gift card and thrown away the receipt, think twice next time — there was a debit gift card in that wallet, which came with a card holder from the bank listing instructions on what to do if the card was lost or stolen. I actually had to dig through some garbage to even find that card holder (don’t throw those things away!), and when I did find it, it only had the last four digits of the card number on it.

Luckily, my dad — the one who got it for me — was able to go to his bank and track down the card number and have it canceled with only the last four digits. But I could’ve easily done it myself had I written down the full 16-digit number and the security code on the back of the card.

6. Temporary phone — very helpful

So another reason that spare cash under your mattress or emergency credit card is important is because, aside from buying you food or possibly paying your bills, it can get you a temporary, prepaid phone. As someone who doesn’t have a landline and only uses a cell phone, you don’t realize how important a phone is until it’s gone. And not because I can’t text or play Angry Birds, but because I simply can’t accomplish tasks that would help me toward restoring my stuff.

I used my boyfriend’s phone to cancel my cards and talk to the police (and he was kind enough to get me a phone with some prepaid minutes for emergencies), but there are other tasks that I can’t do without a phone, all of which revolve around replacing my stuff or dealing with the stolen purse. This becomes very frustrating. On the plus side, my mom is now using gchat to talk to me, and that can be pretty hilarious. (My mom, on gchatting:  “This is pretty good. Just like texting!”)

7. Keep your social security card at home

I used to carry my Social Security card around with me. I needed it for some job in college, and just kept it in my purse. I randomly needed it a few other times since then, and I thought it was nice to know where it was. Then last year, I took it out of my purse and put it somewhere safe, which I am glad I did — that thief could’ve done a lot of damage knowing my Social Security number, and I’m sure replacing a Social Security card is quite annoying. So — best to lock it somewhere safe, except the few times you actually need it.

8. Password protect your phone (if possible)/iPhone users — get the Find my iPhone app

Just before going out on New Year’s Eve, I put my passcode on (it was off so my mom could play Scrabble on my phone, obviously), and I’m glad I did. I didn’t even use the passcode before my older brother’s iPhone was stolen (actually stolen, like, “Here’s my gun, hand over that iPhone,” stolen), and I almost didn’t have it on the night it was taken. I don’t need some stranger having access to my e-mails, contacts, etc.

But the really nice thing was the Find my iPhone app that I had installed just a week before. This free version of the MobileMe app allows you to track your phone remotely, lock your phone remotely, wipe all your data from the phone remotely, and send messages/sounds to your phone remotely. Though the tracking only works if the phone is on, I was able to remotely lock the phone and display a message (OK, my brother was able to, as I was in a state of panic and was dealing with canceling cards) that the phone was lost/stolen and a number to call.

Though it was obvious the thief wasn’t going to return the phone, the app was helpful in two other ways. By tracking the few times the phone was on, I could make better decisions about how to proceed. The first time, it was very close to the bar where it was stolen, so I wasn’t sure if it was still there or not — the second time, it was in a completely different location, so I knew it wasn’t just sitting somewhere or ditched. And I knew it wasn’t coming back.

Which brings me to point number two — being able to remotely wipe your data. I should’ve wiped the data when it was obvious that the phone wasn’t coming back. I knew the thief wasn’t using it much and figured s/he couldn’t get through the lock, and it was my pride that was keeping me from just erasing everything. Once I erased everything, the thief would have full access to the phone in factory-sent format, and I thought that’d be letting him/her win.

In retrospect, I had to cut off service eventually anyway and get a new phone, so I should’ve just wiped the data when I had the chance. The Find my iPhone app is really helpful, especially if you just lose it in your house and can’t find it (you can remotely have it make a sound for two minutes to help find it), but it’s addicting if the phone is gone because it leaves you with this sense that you can still find it — it also leaves you feeling especially frustrated, because you can see where the phone is, but you can’t just drive over and pick it up. So, install the app, but don’t get carried away.

9. Documents — keep them all somewhere

This theft has also brought to my attention that I really do not keep track of important documents very well. Instead of having a filing system or one place for everything, I have folders, bags, and boxes each containing random pieces of mail or important documents — this is not very helpful when you know the document exists, just have no idea where it is. Especially if you’ve recently moved — keeping everything together will save a lot of hassle.

10. Don’t shy away from help — take it

I hate asking for help and have hated feeling so dependent on other people this week, but I’m glad to have those people to depend on, because otherwise I probably would have had three anxiety attacks simply from worrying about how to replace things and how to go about my daily routine without any money whatsoever. I acknowledge that it could have been much worse and that people go without money and other necessities everyday, but these were my personal circumstances, and I want the people who have been helping me out to know that I really, really appreciate it.

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2 Responses to “10 lessons I learned from having my purse stolen”

  1. Mark Says:

    So, basically, I saved the day.

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