Last weekend, I had my bag stolen from a private event at a hotel in Austin. I lost all the normal things—laptop, wallet, dignity—but what was unique about the situation was that it was a pool party. Meaning I was in my bikini. And most of my clothes were in my bag—the bag that was by now likely on a highway some 20 miles south and being stripped for parts and possessions.
Having your property stolen sets off a sequence of emotions like the seven stages of grief:
Shock, when your stomach does a double pike off the diving board when you realize your belongings are missing.
Denial, when you spend ten minutes frantically upending hot-dog-shaped floaties, wondering if someone could have simply moved it.
Anger, when you recognize that someone you had been swimming with earlier had swiped it and ran.
Bargaining, when you tell yourself you would have given up your wallet if they had just left your favorite vintage jacket.
Guilt, when you blame yourself and question if you should have been as trusting of the tanned, smiling faces sipping on slushies around you.
Depression, when you start to question your faith in humanity.
And finally, acceptance, when you come to terms with the loss and start to work out how you’re going to get dinner tonight when you’re only wearing a bathing suit.
It’s never the money that really matters. For me, it was the five-leafed clover that sat in the back of my wallet in a laminated card, a present from my mom. Thanks to my landlord forcing me to get renter’s insurance—lest I burn the apartment to the ground, apparently—I’ll hopefully at least a small sum of money back. But as my detective told me in true Magnum, PI style, “The less-valuable things are usually the most valuable.”
When you’ve been robbed, the sense of helplessness can be overwhelming at first. I’m not expecting to get any of my stuff back; the only thing even vaguely likely to turn up will be my laptop, which the police are tracking in pawn stores using its serial number. But in order to feel sane and move on from the situation, the most helpful action you can take is trying to regain a sense of control. It won’t get your stuff back, but it will return your dignity.
Your trust in humanity may take some time to resolve, but here are some concrete actions you can take in the meantime to feel like karma will have its comeuppance.
What to do when you are robbed
- Call the police. Unless you’re in immediate danger or have been assaulted, look up your local station’s non-emergency contact number. You’ll have to give a quick account of what happened, including a list of the things that were stolen. (Don’t worry, you can update this later.) Have a pen and paper handy because you’ll have to write down some case-file and police-report numbers. You’ll need these digits a lot in the next few days, and if you’re planning to file an insurance claim, you’ll need to hand these over, too. They’ll call you back once they’ve assigned a detective to your case; it’s unlikely they will send someone to the scene of the crime unless they have good reason to.
- Lock or cancel your credit cards. Most banks now offer an option to lock your card for a set period of time instead of outright canceling them. This temporarily freezes your cards and can be helpful in easily tracking attempted transactions, which may be helpful for tracking down the hoodlums.
- Gather the phone numbers of witnesses or people who may be able to help. This might be other people present at the location, the names and numbers of the managers of the establishment, and anyone else who a detective may want to speak to.
- Go for a quick treasure hunt. Oftentimes thieves will head for the closest alley, pull out any items of monetary value, and discard the rest either in a dumpster, trash can, or the bushes. Take a friend and do a quick once-around of the block to see if you can find anything. Even if you don’t, it’ll give you peace of mind later that you tried.
- Make a detailed inventory of everything that was stolen. You’re going to need to provide this to the police eventually, including the estimated prices of everything lost. If you’re filing an insurance claim, they’ll require not only the itemized valuation list but also receipts for the items or other proofs of purchase.
- Take a deep breath—and maybe have a strong drink. It doesn’t feel like it right now, but you’re going to be okay.
How to protect yourself against identity theft
If your social security card was stolen as part of the booty, there’s a chance you could become the victim of identity theft. There are a few ways this plays out: A thief could take out credit cards in your name, max them out, and then leave you with the angry phone calls from the creditors; they could sell your SSN to someone living illegally in the US who wants to obtain work; or it could be used to commit crimes under your alias. This happens more commonly than you think—the Federal Trade Commission estimates up to 5% of Americans experience some degree of identity theft each year.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit. You can do this by calling up one of the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian. Whichever service you call will alert the other two. This means that one of these bureaus will have to call you whenever someone tries to take out a credit card in your name. You will need to renew this every 90 days until you’re confident your identity isn’t under threat of being stolen. The next level up is a security or credit freeze, but you don’t have to set this up unless you are sure your identity has actually been stolen.
- Acquire a new SSN card. In some states you can order a new one online, but in others you will have to go into an office in person. Unless you can prove that you are the victim of identity theft, they will not issue you a new SSN. Once you have your new card, do not put it in your wallet again.
- Monitor your credit reports and tax returns. Unless you start seeing suspicious signs that your identity has been stolen, there’s not much else you can do for now. If you do see evidence that someone is using your identity, you will need to begin the process of filing identify-theft reports with the Federal Trade Commission, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, and the local authorities. If someone submits a tax return in your name to receive your refund check, you should also contact the Internal Revenue Service.
Tips for averting theft crises in the future
- Don’t carry possessions with you that you don’t need. Do you really need to take your whole wallet to the laundromat, your favorite sunglasses to your dinner date, or your laptop to a pool party?
- Separate your most important items so they’re not all in one place. Leaving a bank card in a drawer at home, having a spare set of keys stashed somewhere, and always keeping at least one of your most-valued items on your person means you won’t lose everything in one go.
- Don’t assume fun strangers are your new best friends. Unfortunately, being too trusting is what can get you into these situations in the first place.
- Have a little perspective. In hindsight, having your property stolen is low on the list of horrible things that can happen to you. It doesn’t stop it from smarting in the moment, but once you have calmed down a little and taken stock of the situation, consider the ways in which you are luckier than most.