'The true Soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because He loves what is behind him.' -G. K. Chesterton

09 February 2011

Lost Wallet

Lu had an unfortunate incident today. She lost her wallet. In it was an ATM card, a credit card, her drivers license and her Social Security card. The SS card was there only because she had just that day changed in her California DL for one from Utah and they needed to verify her legal status. We did the usual and I thought this was a great time to talk about this issue and ID theft.

Many of us carry our lives in our wallets or purses. ID, credit cards, cash and all the things society requires us to have to maneuver through the various roadblocks. Those things tend to represent the sum total of our identification lives. The loss of such is more than just the hassle we must endure to replace them, it's the opportunity for the immoral to steal, sometimes more than just material things.

With identification, credit cards and a Social Security card the clever thief can steal your very identity with all the attendant problems that you'll endure. What can you do to protect yourself? The keys are speed, diligence and reporting.

The first thing I recommend is Don't Panic! This is resolvable and you can protect yourself and even find and prosecute the thieves of you're smart and persistent.

First, retrace your steps as carefully as you can, you might get lucky. Make yourself known at every shop or stop you made where there's even a minute possibility that you may have lost your wallet there. Ask them to check and announce you'll be making a police report immediately. I see it's story time again.
Just before I retired I was detailed to a couple from Hong Kong staying in a local hotel who had lost the small satchel containing their ID's, passports, tickets, credit cards and all the cash they'd brought along. They'd taken a cab from the airport to the hotel and discovered the loss after checking in. They were distraught but were sure they'd had it in the cab. We retraced their steps and I called the cabbie in and thoroughly searched his cab. I then let him know I'd be watching and made him aware of the penalties if it turned out he'd made off with the satchel. The bag turned up the next morning in a park in a neighboring city, situated so the first person to see it would be the Park Ranger. Not a thing missing. Coincidence? Maybe but I believe the cabbie found it and decided to keep it until I confronted him. He went through the risk/reward odds and decided it was better if the satchel was 'found' and couldn't be traced to him. That's what we're going for here. Let it be known loudly that you're not a victim, will be actively searching for your property and are taking steps to find the thieves and you've ratcheted up the risk as opposed to the reward.

Report the loss/theft to your local law enforcement agency. Immediately if not sooner. Get a police report number and the name of the reporting officer. You're going to need them later. Make sure you list everything that was in your wallet or purse in the report. Everything. The reporting may be done in person or electronically. If you have a choice do it face to face with an officer. If things progress to more serious crimes remember this. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Be polite but be a pest. Keep calling the Investigations Bureau until they assign your case to a Detective and find out who that officer is. Keep in touch with him/her. Be friendly but don't take no for an answer. Ask for updates and offer your total cooperation in the investigation and prosecution and be sincere. Nothing stops a case faster than a victim who refuses to help or won't prosecute after the work is done. Make sure they know you're in it for the long run, that you're a partner and not another adversary.

Cancel all your credit cards and ATM card (Or your checking account if your checks were also lost). Again, you may have to do it electronically but if you can call and speak with someone. Check your accounts to see if there have been any charges on your cards and contest them immediately with your bank. Let your local PD know as well so they can follow up. Most banks have a good understanding of the issues and will work with you to resolve them. They may be on the hook for unauthorized uses of your credit cards so they have motivation to be helpful. Remember, you've been paying them for years and this is the time for them to help you so insist that they do so. If there has been use of a card or cards, especially locally, the PD can check those places for suspects and camera footage. Again, insist that they follow up and do their due diligence. If someone is using your accounts it's theft and, depending on the amount, maybe a felony. If your bank/credit card company has an ID theft office make sure they're notified. They can be of great help and have resources you can use to make sure your victimization is kept to an absolute minimum.

The three major credit reporting companies are TRW, Experian and Equifax. They monitor your credit and are the prime agencies to help you in cases of identity theft. Contact them and report the loss/theft as soon as possible. This is where that police report number comes in. When you contact them let them know you've filed a report and give them the report number. Same goes for your credit card companies and banks. That report number shows that you've done your due diligence and gives the companies something to hang their hats on and makes recovering your identity massively easier if it comes to that.

Get a new drivers license with a new photograph. Many DMV's have a fraud division. File a report with them if you can. When you replace your credit cards see if you can get the ones that put your picture on the back. Anything that makes it harder for the bad guys to rip us off is a good thing.

If your bank or credit card company notifies you of an unauthorized usage find out if they're going to report it to the PD. If so, call the PD and make sure they did. If not do it yourself and make sure it's included in the original case file. Most criminals aren't caught in the course of an hour long TV show by brilliant deductions or a dramatic confession on the witness stand. They're caught by persistent and thorough gathering of facts and evidence and if you're in this situation you're a part of that process.

Consider one of the credit monitoring companies like LifeLock. I use that company only as an example. I can't and won't recommend any of them but check around and see if one might be right for you and your needs. It may be worth the investment in your time.

Keep a record of all your steps, who you talked to and when. This will be important later on if things progress beyond loss/theft to ID theft. Get everyone's name and contact info. Keep notes of conversations and be specific on what you were told. This can turn ugly and if it does it'll be hold their feet to the fire time and your best asset is information.

Keep the contents of your wallet/purse to what you really need to get through your day. If you don't need it leave it at home. That keeps any loss/theft disaster to an absolute minimum. I mentioned Lu's Social Security card. She only had it because she needed it that day, otherwise it's kept in the safe at home. In our case this will require a trip to the local Social Security Office for another report and a new card. Any other day and it'd be one less worry. For those of you who routinely carry in a purse or other bag that may become separated from you, consider all your carry options. A bag may be the best answer but the potential loss of a weapon kicks the liability up an order of magnitude.

Hey, it's life and shit happens. Don't pound yourself about it. Go ahead and get angry but direct it at those who deserve your ire. The people who would victimize you. Keep your head and be proactive in protecting your name and assets. No one else is as invested in this process as you. No one else has as much to lose as you. In the end the outcome will rest as much in your hands as anyone else so make sure you do anything and everything you can to insure a positive conclusion.

Oh, and to whoever picked up my wife's wallet. Turn it in now and forget you ever saw it. I'm actively looking for it (and by inference you) and you really don't want me to find you with anything that belongs to her. To quote the great John Wayne in the best movie ever made; That would cause me great annoyance and displeasure.



Brigid said...

I'm sorry this happened to her. I got a call from my best friend a couple weeks ago. He was at a gas station and found a wallet by the pump. The name and address on the drivers license didn't turn up anything in google. He asked me for help. I told him I couldn't ethically use any agency resources to find her but I was the non squirrel computer tracking guru. I found her husband online in about 15 minutes and my friend was able to drop off the wallet at their house after I called from work and assured them we were safe to trust with the drop off.

She was very happy.

Most people are good and will return it, but having a plan of action is always a good idea.

Six said...

Thanks Brigid. We may still get lucky yet. There were no charges ar attempts to use either card as of the time she cancelled them so maybe it's in someone's pocket, waiting to turn it in. I'll keep a good thought but have a plan to kill everyone.

Somehow I knew your computer Fu was strong :) Please tell your friend for me that this street cop says it's folks like him who made the job tolerable and at times a pure pleasure.

innominatus said...

Hopefully the fool who steals my identity will have better luck with it than I've had.

Six said...

Ha! You kill me Inno.