On June 12 about two-something in the afternoon, my wallet was stolen at Trader Joe’s. Leaving my purse open in the shopping cart, I had reached to grasp strawberries, coffee, and other foods. When I dug for my wallet to pay at the check-stand, all my identification, credit cards, and $233 in cash were gone. A sense of disbelief swept over me, followed by guilt for being cavalier about my purse while shopping—followed the rest of the week by a deep sense of invasion, betrayal, anger, and some depression. Probably the biggest loss was the time it took to get back my life. It’s been a week today. I’m still working on it.
In this article are contacts you will need to report key documents and information missing, to replace those things you need, as well as to protect the identity you carry in your purse or wallet in the future. Having a list helps you get organized.
I stumbled through the process of reacting and regrouping,
which often happens when you’re the victim of a crime.
Losing your identity is more traumatic than one would think. “Victims may experience emotional trauma—emotional wounds or shocks that may have long-lasting effects,” according to the Victims of Crime website. They say emotional trauma may take many different forms, and certainly feeling frozen and experiencing disbelief, difficulty with decisions, sleeplessness, anger, and stress are reactions I experienced. Here are emotions people feel as victims of many types of crimes.
- Shock or numbness: Victims may feel “frozen” and cut off from their own emotions. Some victims say they feel as if they are “watching a movie” rather than having their own experiences. Victims may not be able to make decisions or conduct their lives as they did before the crime.
- Denial, Disbelief, and Anger: Victims may experience “denial,” an unconscious defense against painful or unbearable memories and feelings about the crime. Or they may experience disbelief, telling themselves, “this just could not have happened to me!” They may feel intense anger and a desire to get even with the offender.
- Acute Stress Disorder: Some crime victims may experience trouble sleeping, flashbacks, extreme tension or anxiety, outbursts of anger, memory problems, trouble concentrating, and other symptoms of distress for days or weeks following a trauma. A person may be diagnosed as having acute stress disorder (ASD) if these or other mental disorders continue for a minimum of two days to up to four weeks within a month of the trauma. If these symptoms persist after a month, the diagnosis becomes posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While some of these emotions were going on, I checked and re-checked all the places in the store where I’d stopped to consult food labels and place items in my cart, thinking I’d left my wallet there, which was silly, because why would I? It never occurred to me to look accusingly at fellow shoppers, mostly women. After hours of searching and talking to owners of shops I had visited that day, I went home and waited for a sheriff’s deputy to come over and take an incident report.
That interview was the best part of my day. Not only was I taking back a little control, but the deputy was young, pretty, impressively intelligent, and after an initial stiffness/professional demeanor, memorably helpful and friendly. She gave me advice about steps to take to protect myself from further abuse, including contacting credit bureaus to put a lock on my accounts, and other key survival tips.
Did you know you’re not supposed to store your Social Security card in your wallet? I didn’t. So I have to fill out paperwork and bring my driver’s license to the SS office nearby to order another. You can’t do that online.
Except, oh, wait, I no longer have a driver’s license. Mine was in my wallet.
The driver’s license issue was a nightmare. It took two visits to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and close to eight hours to order a new license. This task you can’t do online or at Triple A, and the DMV offices in Southern California are so overburdened with requests for the fed’s new REAL I.D. (an I.D. that lets you fly domestically) on top of the other typical and complex tasks and new paperwork requirements, that lines form around the block and it takes hours to complete the simplest things, such as taking a driver’s test. In my area, there is a two-month wait to get a DMV appointment, which cuts down on standing in the line-around-the-block but doesn’t cut down on the two- or three-hour lines inside the building. It is illegal to drive without a license, so I had no alternative to spending those wasted hours to get a new one ordered. Clearly, California DMVs are severely impacted and understaffed for serving the public’s needs.
On the day of the theft, the thief traveled quickly to a Ralph’s Supermarket in my city and tried to purchase $1514.85 in merchandise and/or gift cards. First, they used my business debit card. Bank of America automatically rejected it, presumably due to algorithms or tracking: The bank knows I would never spend that amount at a grocery store. Next, the thief tried my Mastercard. Then my American Express. I don’t know whether the person got away with the latter two or if the financial companies simply reversed the charges once I reported the loss.
In reaction, I visited the Ralph’s store manager and learned that, no, the check-out clerks don’t report an incident when a patron uses card after card after card, each being declined, for a purchase. Why not? If I had presented two cards and was turned down, and still presented a third, I would appreciate a store policy wherein the manager gets involved and even takes a report or at the very least compares the driver’s license to the person’s face. With identity theft so rampant, a store’s policy of non-intervention doesn’t work for me. It’s a failure of customer service.
Identity Theft is Rising
For the annual National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the definition of identity theft includes three general types of incidents:
- unauthorized use or attempted use of an existing account
- unauthorized use or attempted use of personal information to open a new account
- misuse of personal information for a fraudulent purpose.
I am a victim of the first type—as far as I know to date. I’m still contacting agencies, such as the credit bureaus. With my Social Security card and my credit cards and driver’s license, the thief could easily buy a car. Or maybe a house.
Here are a few statistics: In 2004, “3.6 million U.S. households learned they were identity theft victims during a six-month period.” Ten years later, in 2014, 17.6 million U.S. residents experienced identity theft” (NCVS).
A number of times the bank has cancelled my debit or credit card “for unauthorized use” by unknown parties. This inconvenience now happens at least twice per year, especially on the debit card. So frustrating!
Contact Information for Victims
If identity theft happens to you because your purse or wallet is stolen, here are a few contacts that will help you get your life back*.
Trans Union: 800-888-4213
Federal Trade Commission: 877- 438-4338 https://www.ftc.gov/contact Contact them to report a missing or stolen Social Security card, to learn how to reorder one, to get info to repair your credit, and to open an identity theft account for further protection.
Social Security Administration: 800-772-1213 https://www.ssa.gov/ to print the form to reorder a SS card and to find an office near you.
California DMV: www.dmv.ca.gov Check here to make appointments, get instructions for obtaining a new driver’s license, and find DMV field offices. You’re going to need a lot of patience!
Passport Office: http://travel.state.gov/passport for fraud involving your passport.
US Secret Service: www.secretservice.gov if someone committed credit card fraud in your name.
California Attorney General’s Victim Services: 877-433-9069 or 800-952-5225 or 800-777-9229 for a variety of services including victim compensation, rights, and support.
Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. Crimes Main Line: 714-647-7486. Always file a “police report.”
In addition to guarding your wallet or purse, and keeping it close to your body when out and about, here are other precautions recommended by the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department*:
- Don’t carry your PIN numbers
- Don’t carry your Passport or government Visa
- Don’t carry more credit cards than you need
- Don’t carry your Social Security card or number
To obtain a copy of *“Identity Theft: a Quick Reference Guide,” which includes how to respond to credit agencies, visit your local law enforcement office.
- Opt Out of credit card offers: 888-567-8688
- Opt Out of solicitations on your phone (land or cell): http://DoNotCall.gov Call the registry 888-382-1222 to register phone numbers to reduce spam calls and/or report abuses.
Special thanks to Sheriff’s Deputy Raphael for professionalism, thoroughness, and kindness. Special thanks to friends Debra Holland and Matt Orso for being concerned enough when I was overwhelmed to bring me roses and very specific favorite See’s chocolates and for spending time. Thanks to Carl and Stacee for follow-up calls and loving support.