On a Friday evening in March, my girlfriend and I took the dog for a walk at a local park. We stood on the bluffs over Puget Sound and watched the final sliver of sun disappear behind the Olympic Mountains. It was the perfect end to a perfect week. Until we got back to the car.
We parked on the side of the road in a quiet, wooded area and were away from the vehicle for about 30 minutes, but that’s all the time it took for someone to smash in the passenger window and grab her purse from the front seat. This is the first time that I have ever been robbed and the feeling of helplessness was extremely frustrating. But my girlfriend has a level head and immediately snapped into action; these are the steps that she took.
- Cancel the cards. In the half-hour it took to look up the phone numbers to cancel the credit card and two debit cards, the thief had already spent nearly one thousand dollars at an electronics chain, gas station and liquor store; but because the theft was expediently reported, she’s not liable for those charges.
- File a police report. As with most large cities where vehicle vandalism and break-ins—often referred to as “prowls”—are common, this entire process is automated and can be completed online in just a few minutes. The incident number is needed for any insurance claims.
- Place a fraud alert. Since her state-issued driver’s license was in the purse, she contacted Experian and asked for a fraud alert; a credit bureau that receives this request must contact the other two bureaus—TransUnion and Equifax—and inform them of the fraud alert. Placing a fraud alert on her name will flag any new accounts that are opened in the next 90 days. And while it’s unlikely that a “smash & grab” criminal—think bored high school kid—is interested in anything more than a quick shopping binge, it’s better to be cautious when credit is at stake.
- Monitor credit. She set an email reminder to check her free credit report in a few weeks at annualcreditreport.com for any unusual activity.
While this situation is more of an inconvenience than a life-shattering crime, it is my hope that this experience will serve as a reminder of what not to do: I can’t help but think that if her purse had been on the floor or under the seat that this would not have happened. Because I was comfortable in my home town, I let my guard down and forgot that thieves never take a day off. So remember, never leave valuables in unsecured locations. If items must be left in cars, make sure they are not in plain sight.
Better Business Bureau offers a one-stop PDF guide for protecting identities and I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to learn the available resources and understand the proper procedure for dealing with something like this; a delay of just a few minutes can really matter.
And finally, a message to the thief: Karma. That is all.
Full Disclosure: Equifax Inc is a BBB Accredited Business headquartered in Atlanta, Ga.; Experian Information Solutions Inc is a BBB Accredited Business headquartered in Costa Mesa, Calif.; TransUnion LLC is a BBB Accredited Business headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.