When Bad Things Happen in Good Places

By on 15 December, 2011 in Carole King, City Living, Crime and Safety with 0 Comments

Photo by davetoaster

I’m smart, I’m aware, and I’m cautious but I still became a victim of a “smash and grab” recently. After attending a regular exercise class at a local midtown gym late one chilly afternoon, I returned to my car, parked underneath a street light in full view of the front door of the gym, to find my driver’s side window smashed and the content of my car in disarray.

After the initial shock, I realized my purse (which had been shoved underneath the seat and covered with a jacket) and my smartphone were gone. A quick overview of the rest of the car showed me that the thief was not interested in dog food, walking shoes, or a bag of recycling. I knew the first item of business was to file a police report, but I had no cell phone. Luckily, the folks at the gym were very helpful with that important task, and even helped sweep out all the broken glass so I could sit in my car.

When the police arrived (did I mention it was chilly?), their first question was: “Was your GPS on?” I had known where I was and where I was going — why would I have my GPS on? Duh, of course not. I have since found out that that is a very successful method for tracking these kinds of thefts.

The patrol officer dutifully filled out a report and instructed me to pick up a copy the next day after noon. By this time, the thief had a two hour advantage with the charge cards from my purse. After a scramble home with no window, in the cold, I pulled out files and began trying to cancel charge cards. The key word here is trying. Because banks, card companies and lending organizations have changed hands so frequently during the last several years of the financial crisis, some of the original contact numbers from when I received the cards were no longer in service. I don’t do much credit card activity, so I had no recent bills that would have a current “lost/stolen” number and my home Internet service was … you got it, on the smartphone.

The card companies I did reach had already had suspicious activity and were not honoring purchases. This thief had what seemed to be a systematic network and was working lots of local midtown businesses for assorted purchases of gas, clothing, cash, etc. I became so paranoid that I even re-called several of the card companies to double check that the cards and accounts were actually blocked.

It also dawned on me that with my purse the thief had also gotten my extra car key. Since he had my driver’s license and checkbook, he knew where I lived and could return for the car. NOW THAT WAS SCARY. Luckily, I do have a somewhat ugly Honda Element that would be very noticeable if listed as a stolen vehicle. I wasn’t too concerned about it, but decided to take precautions with next door neighbors parking behind me in the driveway to squelch any attempts to steal my ugly but reliable vehicle. Did I mention that it was chilly? I guess even the thief didn’t want a car with a broken window. To replace the stolen key, the ignition had to be re-programmed – yet another expense to me. My car insurance readily replaced the broken window within two days. This involved a deductible and enduring some more cold winds.

The next day at my bank I was confronted with the reality that money had continued to flow out of my checking account until the thief zeroed out my account. This despite my calls and reassurances that the accounts were closed. So I began filling out the multiple forms to dispute the withdrawals for review by the bank. I have been told that this will take weeks to clear up.

I picked up the police report for the bank the next day and was directed to the Criminal Investigative Division of the MPD for further assistance. After multiple telephone calls and faxes I think I have finally been assigned a detective to check out my case.

The moral of all of this is … BE PREPARED!

  1. Have current copies of the backs and fronts of all your cards — charge, credit, gas, insurance, driver’s license, etc. in a safe place in your home.
  2. Keep only everyday expense money in your accessible checking account.
  3. Take all valuables with you, even when you are parked at your home. I feel like this thief was watching me get out of the car, saw that I did not have a purse with me and seized the opportunity.
  4. Keep backup copies of phone contacts and other valuable information either on another computer or in hard copies, especially if your smartphone is your only communication tool. Luckily, I have a Gmail account and my phone provider was able to download my contacts on my new smartphone, yet another expense, from some unimaginable G-planet in the sky.

And most importantly, don’t accept victimization. I have made at least 50 phone calls following up on insurance, bank disputes, police investigations, etc. and I am trying my best to help find this thief. I don’t buy into the statements “it’s happening everywhere,” or “at least it wasn’t your home,” however sympathetic those well-intended statements may be. As I work to regain my personal sense of security, I keep reminding myself that we work, live, and play in a great Midtown!

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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