Protecting yourself

New job, stolen wallet make for a tragic-comic summer

What a summer.

Cue the blistering heat, the West Nile virus scare, the Michael Phelps Olympics and the amped-up rhetoric of election year politics. For me, this summer also included a new beginning and some hard lessons learned — all linked together like the tragic-comic masks of ancient Greek theater.

I joined the ranks here at in early June. The elation I felt at having a new job with new opportunities was palpable. And credit cards? Oh yes. I’ve had my fair share of credit card drama over the years. While not making me an expert, it did make me keenly inquisitive as to their inner workings — curious about things such as how to boost your credit score, which ones have all the best perks, and what to do if your card is…

Stolen.A two-headed credit card story sums up my summer

Flash forward to the Fourth of July. I decided to begin the day by making an appearance at my nearby gym. After a bout with the treadmill, I placed my valuables in a locker, locked it, took my shower and returned to the locker room 10 minutes later to find something was not … quite … right.

For one, apparently I had failed to properly lock the, er, locker. More importantly, my bag of valuables was missing — wallet, keys, iPhone. Gone. As I raced around the nearly deserted gym, searching for any sign of the bag, I already knew in my heart the truth:

I had been burgled.

I called the police (using the gym’s land line, natch) and filed a report immediately. By the time I got back home in front of my computer, the thief — in a matter of hours — had rung up charges on both my cards, zipping around to such places as Panda Express, Walmart and 7-Eleven. Just who was this ruthless bandit desperately in need of Kung Pao chicken, cheap underwear and a Slurpee?

After I logged into my online accounts, I quickly found the appropriate numbers and used a friend’s phone to cancel my cards. The lag time, then, from the theft to the reporting of said theft to the card issuers was about two hours. The thief’s haul in that period of time was, actually, quite substantial — nearly $800 in charges, plus the brand new iPhone that retails at $650.

Now, perhaps I should have taken the time to get those cards canceled when I was still at the gym, before the culprit began his torrid two-hour spending spree. But without access to my account passwords or the credit card numbers themselves, I felt I was stuck. And indeed, I was literally stuck — with my car keys stolen, I couldn’t get home to retrieve those valuable bits of data.

The card issuers, thankfully, are fully prepared to handle issues of theft. Citi reversed the fraudulent charges immediately, no questions asked. Chase, on the other hand, wanted a copy of the police report and a print out of my statement with the suspect charges circled before they’d remove them from my account.

This is the thing about putting your life back together after thievery has encroached upon it — everything moves in slow motion. First I had to request a copy of the initial police report … by fax (yes, fax). Then I had to mail (yes, mail) copies of it to Citi and to Chase (as part of a purchase protection claim). While this was going on, I had to wait in line at the DMV for a new driver’s license, then wait three weeks to receive it.

And so on. Now, the good news is that Chase, whose credit card I had used to buy my iPhone, eventually honored my claim and reimbursed me for the phone. The bad: It was nearly a month later, and only for what I paid for the device, not its value (see the $650 above). Since I’d already bought the phone for $199 as part of a two-year service plan with Verizon, I wasn’t able to get another phone at  that rate.

Yep. If I wanted the exact same iPhone, it was going to cost me no matter what. In the end, I spent an additional $400 over about a month to get everything back to ground zero.

While patience and tenacity eventually won the day, it was irony that ended up defining my summer. That a man can get a job helping inform people about the inner workings of credit cards, only to have his credit cards stolen shortly after taking the job. That said man could have right in front of him a vast reservoir of knowledge regarding financial security, only to end up having his own financial security compromised.

Tragic? Comic?

Both. Disheartening in the moment, laugh-worthy in the rear view.

And as mentioned at the outset, this summer’s tale comes with lessons learned:

  • Keep your wallet light and keep the details of what’s in it in a safe place. Wish I had managed to read this wallet recovery article my employer published last year before my incident ever took place.
  • Pick a credit card that offers buyer’s insurance and use it to pay for anything that may attract thieves (of course, pay down the debt of your card after the purchase so it’s always available for such transactions).
  • Enable location tracking on your smartphone or laptop if you can. Seriously. Stop reading right now and do it — wish I had. If you have an iPhone 4/4s, register your phone using iCloud in your settings. Then anyone who downloads the Find My iPhone app can track your phone wherever it goes (with your user name and password).
  • Use precautions when going to the gym on holidays or other times when it’s little-used. There’s no one around and the predators know it. But if you do, refer to my next bullet point:
  • Always lock your locker.

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  • I had the same thing happen to me around the same time at a gym, except I was stupid and didn’t lock the locker at all – didn’t even put a lock on it. I went to an all female gym that you needed to be over 18 to attend so (as stereotypical as I was) I assumed it would be fine. Not so. It’s the worst feeling having your wallet stolen!

  • Derek Bowman

    I had my wallet stolen also, but it was after they broke into my car. It also cost me a new window for my car and I think my mistake was leaving it out where the burglar could see it. I had heard not to do that before but was in a hurry this day. Surprisingly, the alarm on my car was not a deterrent.
    All of my credit card companies were easy to deal with except Capital One. They were awful and I fought them tooth and nail for over 6 weeks on it. They didn’t mail out paperwork when they said they did and when I asked him to mail it out again, they did so by it took a lot of time to get here. I think they were trying to do anything to get out of reversing the charges. I have had credit cards with Capital One for over 20 years and had never seen such unprofessionalism from them before! I would have given them 4 stars before this incident and now I am thinking about opening a couple new accounts and getting rid of Capital One altogether.

  • Bryan

    So….you took a shower at the gym?

  • I am sorry you went through all that Troy and hope your credit is still intact. It is true that we need to really keep track of our credit cards.