Thieves Suck: How to Protect Yourself When Your Stuff Is Stolen

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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.

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.


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13 comments
Marc Brubaker
Marc Brubaker

Just a correction, but it was a laptop, new printer, and my 24" iMac that were stolen. I got the iMac back.

CMN
CMN

so did you go get your iPad out of the dumpster?

chef504
chef504

Holy crap! $30 for lipstick. Thats news to me. I have to admit I love that women are bringing lipstick back though. Sorry about your break in. I have had my flat broken into a few times in a few places, and it really sucks. 

Enough
Enough

This just in...water is wet.

Jeremy
Jeremy

Damn -- crappy news; sorry to hear about the theft... :(  Good tips, as well, although on the Find My iPhone service, I'd just like to note that it only seems to work on the iPhone 4, so 3G/3GS users like me are out of luck.  *sigh*.

One relatively simple way to disable your data is just to enable the passcode lock on your phone -- that way even if it gets stolen, thieves will have a harder time getting into it.

Chris D
Chris D

I wish I had some tips to share. I DO howerer, have a question: My mothers purse was stolen a couple years ago, ID, SSN, everything basically. The fools took that information and not only got electricity turned on at THIER apartment, but got several credit cards in her name. I contacted the police with the information and guess what? The police REFUSED to assist even though I had an address for the thieves...Any advice of what I could have done (short of going there myself and shooting on sight)?

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

I normally do not splurge on stuff like that but I swear to god it is the best lipstick I have ever worn.

MadMac
MadMac

And this just in, trolls are trolling. Some of us didn't know about the iPhone/iPad feature. But points for "contributing" to the conversation there, smart guy.

MadMac
MadMac

Chris, nothing guaranteed, (there's nothing harder than getting a public servant to serve the friggin' public) but sometimes the DA/council member will help. I also have referred my clients to private lawyers, (one was rear-ended on 288, had the other guy's license plate imbedded in his back seat and the Pearland cops wouldn't do anything)  but that gets expensive. Jokes aside, keep it in perspective. I reserve shooting for physical injury.

Oh, one other point. As your mom has clear proof of identity theft, she should be able to get a new SS#. That's like pulling your own teeth with a set of pliers. Good luck.

chef504
chef504

That's a good splurge then. I now understand why when I left a girlfriends purse in the car after I said I hadn't and her makeup melted I was asked to fork over over $100, and she was upset. VERY UPSET!!

MadMac
MadMac

Ms. Shey, I'd fork over my iTunes budget for the month if my Mrs would wear lipstick. Like chef504, I love to see a well accented woman. Which is the argument my Mrs used against me to get a pair of Christian Louboutin's and Stuart Wiseman's in the same year. Yes, I'm quite the slave to fashion I don't wear.

Enough
Enough

You didn't know because you are a freaking idiot.

MadMac
MadMac

Said the childish troll while trolling on the message board. Right back at ya', Eny.

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