"And what makes robbers bold but too much lenity."
- William Shakespeare's
King Henry VI
Edison, New Jersey, may be a wonderful place to live, but my only memory of that New York City suburb occurred at a Ramada Inn checkout counter about 25 years ago. Following a family visit to New England, we were returning to Georgia when the unthinkable happened.
"We've been robbed!" my husband shouted, as he returned from first sight of our nearly empty car. Every container except the overnight bags we had brought into the hotel with us was gone.
Had we parked on some out-of-the-way street, away from streetlights or the security of the hotel? No, the car sat all night under blazing floodlights not more than 10 yards from the hotel's front door. The thief knew exactly how to jimmy locks on station wagon doors, while exuding confidence to potential witnesses that the car he was entering belonged to him.
Fortunately, most of our valuables and all our important papers were safely in the hotel with us, and our insurance company reimbursed us for most of the clothes and personal effects we lost. But 10 years later during a trip to Europe, I wasn't so fortunate. While eating at an outdoor caf in Amsterdam I carelessly placed my purse on the ground beside my chair - and lost all my cash to someone's sleight-of-hand. With traveler's checks in my luggage, and the kindness of friends traveling with me, I was able to finish the tour, but I never again traveled with more than a small amount of cash
in my wallet, or let my purse out of my sight, even on trips to the buffet and salad bars back home.
Trial and error, live and learn - or take the advice of others who have had similar experiences or worse. Thankfully, neither my carelessness nor a clever thief has ever caused me to replace my passport or driver's license, or cancel my credit cards. Yet, if such a calamity were to happen, I had no idea there were so many preventive measures I could take now to ease the trauma then until a friend sent me the following list, compiled by a corporate attorney for the employees in his company - after his own wallet had been stolen and all his credit cards were maxed out by someone else. I
intend to adopt these measures myself before my next trip out of town, or to the buffet bar at Ryan's or Golden Corral. Perhaps you will find the list helpful, too:
The next time you order checks, print only your initials and last name. If someone takes your checkbook they will not know if you sign your checks with your full name or your initials, but the bank will and they will spot the ruse.
When paying your credit card accounts by check, don't put the complete account number on the "for" line. Just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number and no one else, not even those who handle your check, will have access to it.
Put your work phone number on your checks if you have one, and not your home number. Also, if you have a P.O. box, put that address on your checks instead of your home address.
Never have your Social Security number printed on your checks. You can always add it on individual checks if necessary and far fewer people will ever see it.
Place the contents of your wallet - driver's license, credit cards, etc. - on a photocopying machine and copy both sides of every card. You will then have instant access to all account and phone numbers necessary for calling, canceling, and replacing each document. Be sure to keep the copy in a safe place. And if you travel out of the country, also make a photocopy of your passport and take it with you.
Finally, file a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your property was stolen. This proves to your credit providers that you were diligent, and becomes an important first step toward any ensuing investigation.
Have a nice trip!
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@aol. com.)
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