1.30.2013

It Can Happen to Anyone

I've read over and over that victims tend to blame themselves.  Certainly last night, as I looked across the parking lot and immediately recognized the dark, gaping hole where my driver's window had been less than an hour before, I was blaming myself.  "Stupid, stupid, stupid me for leaving my purse in my car!"  I mentally kicked myself over and over, while muttering profanities as my only way to vent my rage and crunching on the glass on the ground reflecting the dim light.

In the period of approximately half an hour, one or more assailants came into the parking area of one of the gyms I teach at.  They targeted at least three vehicles for the purposes of property theft.  One member had left his SUV unlocked; the thieves initially stole his cell phone and a few other items which were found nearby under a tree, miraculously undamaged in spite of the rain and near-freezing temperatures.  The other two vehicles were not so lucky; we both had windows broken out of our cars and our purses stolen.

Through the investigation by the local sheriff's department, one thing became clear: even if I had done what I usually do -- lock my purse in my trunk -- I still would have been a victim.  The criminals came prepared to do their business, and they had been watching the parking lot for women arriving alone.  For some reason, there is a belief that car windows can be pried out (not true, according to the glass repairman), so he or they had brought a pry bar and bent the window frames on our cars before shattering the windows.  They went for the windows that would draw the least attention from passers-by while they were doing their deed.  For the other female victim, they broke out her back driver's window to gain access to her split rear seat -- because she had locked her purse in her trunk.  They took advantage of a brief, approximately 30 minute, lull in member ingress and egress from the facility.

I consider myself lucky.  Two rather unusual things ended up saving my bacon, two temporary moments of laziness and abnormal (for me) behavior.  The first was forgetting my cell phone at home, and deciding that although I had time between my two classes to go back and get it, I'd just wait until I got home.  Given my Facebook obsession as well as my desire to receive a text from an inamorata, this was extremely odd behavior for me.  The second was realizing as I was walking from my car into the gym that I'd failed to clip on my employee badge; it was in my purse.  Although I had sufficient time to turn around, walk back to my car, and get it, I decided the cold drizzle was bad enough to only brave once prior to my class.

The former was fortuitous for the very clear reason that an iPhone, which is what I have, could be of interest to a thief.  Although I have my phone "passcoded," it is nothing to wipe it clean and start over, and even though I have my information backed up to "The Cloud," without that phone I am largely out of touch with the rest of the world.  How the employee badge part was a good thing is less obvious.

As I was standing out in the drizzle (which had mercifully slowed to a cold mist), filling out paperwork for the gym and beginning the process with the sheriff's deputy, one of our maintenance guys who was out there was hailed on the walkie-talkie by our office staff.  "Is Suzanne still out there?"  A few blocks away an observant citizen had been aware of a car that had lingered at a stop sign too long; the headlights of the car had been shining into his living room window.  After the car had been there for about 10 minutes, he went out to check on it, causing the car to speed away.  In its wake was my purse and belongings, strewn all over the street.  Seeing my employee ID badge, he called the center hoping to get a hold of me.  Because of that, my purse and belongings, minus my cash and some worthless gift cards, was returned to me before I even had a chance to call my bank and cancel my debit card.

From that, we (meaning the sheriffs, mostly) learned that whoever did this was seasoned.  They stole only the cash and untraceable things, namely a Visa gift card (balance approximately $3) and a QuikTrip gift card (balance $0; don't ask why it was still in my wallet).  They didn't touch my debit card, they left my check book alone.  I've had a wallet stolen before by people looking to make a quick buck, and they tried to use my debit card first thing, which was declined because my billing zip code is different than the one on my driver's license.  These criminals didn't even try.  Oh yes, I'll be keeping a close eye on my account for a while, and making sure my home is secure as they at least had the opportunity to see my home address.  But by and by, they went for what was easy and untraceable, end of story.

$250 and a long, snowy night later, I have a new driver's window on my car.  (Fortunately, snow is a pretty effective deterrent from someone wanting to steal a vulnerable car.)  So far, I have noticed no issues from the slightly bent frame, but I have been warned there may be some whistling when I'm on the freeway or something.  From now on, my purse goes with me, because even locking it in the trunk is useless.  If someone wants your stuff, they'll get your stuff, period.  By doing nothing more than going to work, I was marked as a victim by an opportunistic thief.  It could happen to anyone.  Anyone. 

Learn from my experience -- don't be the next victim.

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