How to: When Thieves Strike

I was in Montréal when it happened: I was out for dinner with my friend Louis and when I went to pay, my wallet was no longer with me. I later found out that 45 minutes earlier, someone had unzipped my purse, dug into it, pulled out my wallet and zipped my purse up again without me even noticing. It was all caught on security camera. The craziest part was my bag was in my hand the entire time!

I can relate with this baby!

While I still had my cell phone, I was left in Montréal with neither ID, nor access to money. Here are the lessons I learned from the whole experience, as well as the steps that I’m glad I took BEFORE I left for Montréal.

1. Photocopy your wallet

In my files I keep an up-to-date photocopy of everything in my wallet. It includes the front and back of each card I carry. When my wallet was pickpocketed, I was able to text a roommate to send me pictures of the photocopies.

Why It’s a Good Idea: The back of debit and credit cards list the phone number you need to call to cancel your card. Of course, this doesn’t do you any good when your card is no longer with you. The front of the cards have the card number (in case you haven’t already memorized it from online shopping!). The copies also work as a form of proof for when you try to prove your identity at the bank.

2. Keep at least one card separate from the rest

I don’t carry many cards to begin with, so I keep them all in one place. I just happened to have my metro pass in a different pocket and I was so glad I could at least take the subway home!
Why It’s a Good Idea: If you keep all of your cards in one place, when you lose one, you lose them all! The same goes for photocopies – don’t keep the photocopy of your passport inside your passport! (It sounds obvious, but no one plans to have their passport stolen.) Keeping one card separate means you have access to at least some of your money or ID.

3. Carry as little cash as possible

As a rule, I never carry cash on me. I believe it’s too easy to lose and too easy to spend. If you do carry cash on you, keep it too a minimal amount.
Why It’s a Good Idea: Plastic that is lost or stolen can be easily replaced. Cash, however, is rarely ever returned.

4. Report the incident to the police

When my wallet was pickpocketed, the nearest police station was actually just across the street. They asked for some personal information and said they would contact me if anything showed up.
Why It’s a Good Idea: Reporting the theft to the police is the first step to an investigation, if needed. It also proves to your bank and credit card companies that you were diligent in protecting yourself.

5. Convince the police of the severity of the situation

My wallet was stolen at 9-something pm on a Friday night. The station was closed and the officer there tried to send me home a few times. I stood my ground and told her I needed help from the police and that my safety had been compromised. She then had no choice but to open the station for me.
Why It’s a Good Idea: Police officers are very busy people – there is no doubt about that. A stolen wallet is not likely a top priority case for them. But do not be afraid to stand your ground. If you have no access to money nor ID, your safety has been compromised, and identity theft is now a real possibility. Make certain that the police understand this, and do not let them send you home without first filing a report.

6. Ask for an incident number

The officer I reported the theft to gave me a card with the incident number on it. The card also included the officer’s name and the station’s phone number.

Why It’s a Good Idea: Many travel tickets require photo ID upon arrival. If you no longer have any, the case number can help convince skeptical travel employees that you are the person you say you are. You (or the travel company) can also contact the officer directly if you have any questions or new information.

7. Call your country’s credit agencies and anti-fraud line

There are two major credit agencies in Canada. I called the 1-800 numbers that night and told the Anti-Fraud agency the next morning.

Why It’s a Good Idea: Notifying these companies of your recent theft means they can flag your identity for potential suspicious activity. If anyone tries to take out credit in your name, it will be denied and you will be notified. This is crucial in protecting both your identity and your credit score.

8. Call your travel company before your departure

When I was pickpocketed, I was scheduled to leave the city the next evening. I called the coach bus company in the morning and forewarned them of my situation.

Why It’s a Good Idea: Calling ahead makes your story seem more legitimate to the travel company. They can also inform you of any additional steps you should take to ensure a smooth check-in.

9. Don’t feel like the theft is your fault

After my wallet was stolen, I thought two things: I had done something wrong, and I’d never see my wallet again. Looking back on the situation, I realize now that I couldn’t have really prevented the theft. I was always very careful and I kept my items within my field of vision. Unfortunately, that is never always enough. Thieves and pickpockets are professionals. If you don’t believe me, watch as Robin Apollo demonstrates how he can steal the watch off your very wrist!
Also, lost now is not the same as lost forever. Your things have a way of finding their way back home again. About a month after I had returned home, I received a package in the mail. Inside was my wallet, every card still there, and a note from the postman saying that he had found it in the community post box.

10. Don’t let a petty thief steal your vacation

Yes, your wallet was stolen. Yes, this means that you have a bit of a headache to deal with when you get home. But don’t let the thief steal your vacation from you too! Enjoy your trip and try to keep to your original itinerary as much as possible. It may seem impossible at the time, but the whole ordeal will be something you laugh about a few weeks later. Have fun and focus on the reason to traveled to wherever you are in the first place!
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