‘Tis the Season to be Jolly Roger!

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December 6th, 2016

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At this time of year the festivities are well under way and everyone is in a relaxed party mood. Despite the joyful atmosphere, it is also a time of year where the pursestrings are a little more stretched than normal… we have the thanksgiving dinners, the friendsgiving dinners, the Christmas dinners, the office holiday parties, the New Years parties, the Christmas tree, the decorations, and not to mention all the presents. Oh the presents! Every year we feel more and more pressure to deliver bigger and better parties, bigger and better gifts. The pressure really puts a strain on those with lower incomes. To make things worse, we are constantly bombarded with advertisements telling us what we want and need. They surround us! They are on television, in the paper, in magazines, on billboards, in the subway, in our emails, they are sponsors of our sporting events and they are on leaflets stuffed through our doors. WE CANNOT ESCAPE THEM!! Trying to keep up with the financial demands caused by this constant bombardment could leave a low income parent feeling desperate and has the potential to make some people feel like a failure if the demands aren’t met. Some go into debt to keep up. Others just stay away from the festivities altogether. And some, a small few I might add, resort to measures that most of us would never dream of doing. And this, my friends, is what I need to warn you about.

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Just over a week ago, I was robbed. A lady took my purse (wallet) straight out of my handbag (without me noticing) whilst I was clothes shopping with a friend.

I hardly ever go clothes shopping, I actually hate it. Traipsing around shops trying to find what you’re looking for hours on end is not my idea of fun. I really have to have a certain mindset to be able to go through with it. However, on this occasion I was trying to make the most of the Black Friday sales. We had just had Thanksgiving and the streets of New York seemed in a jolly mood. My friend and I had been in a couple of stores already and had picked up a few bargains. I had a bag of recycling for H&M (which by the way, I urge you all to do! You give them a bag of clothes for recycling and in return they give you a 15% off voucher… it’s great!) so we located a store nearby. Obviously while we were there, we couldn’t resist a little peek at the bargains…

So, there I was, overladen with shopping bags from other stores, clothes I was considering buying, and my bag of recycling.. and somewhere underneath everything was my handbag… containing what some would only describe as “my life”. What happens if “your life” disappears out the door without you? Well, I can tell you now… total breakdown.

You could say I was an easy target what with the amount of stuff I was carrying and trying to keep track of. Plus there I was, out shopping, with my friend. I have a theory about this…. When we’re out in the street our senses are somehow heightened. We are wary of every stranger that walks passed us, especially once the sun goes down, eyes alert, hands at the ready, protecting our belongings and our loved ones. But for some reason, when we’re in a store, it somehow seems like a safe haven… like there is a little bubble surrounding us, protecting us from all the nasties out there. I never thought about this hypothesis before now but I think it’s quite true…. but WHY?? Why do we think that?? I mean, if you are in a store it is no different, you are still susceptible to be robbed, man handled or otherwise.

Now, I’m not saying I was careless, because I wasn’t. I at no point left my bag unattended, and I did not walk around with it wide open for all to see the contents. I have always been vigilant of my belongings… ever since my sister’s car got broken into, just over 10 years ago, I have been ridiculously careful. Most of my friends will tell you this, and they probably think I’m crazy… but I didn’t want to take any risks after that incident. You see that day 10 years ago taught me a valuable lesson. I left 3 of my bags in full view on the back seat of a car (because there wasn’t room in the boot, or “trunk”). We thought, “It’s ok, it’s a quiet little village street just outside Cambridge (England) nothing will happen here!”… WRONG!!! Some people steal through sheer desperation, others just steal because they are opportunists. That can happen anywhere!!!

So how did it happen this time? When did it happen? I must have taken my eye off the ball for a split second. It only takes a second and it’s gone. I had my bag on my shoulder and it must have been against my side or back as I was looking at things, perhaps I even bent over for a second… and bam! She unzipped my handbag and took my purse (wallet) that was sitting just on top of everything. I didn’t feel a thing. I swung round looking for my friend and suddenly noticed my handbag was wide open and my purse was gone and yet no-one was anywhere near me. I didn’t want to believe it was gone to start with. I kept looking and looking for it. I started getting hot and flustered and I can’t begin to tell you the panic that ran through me. I had no clue what to do. I hadn’t seen anything. When was it taken? Who took it? How did she know it was there? … my guess on that one is that she had been watching me for a period of time and was just waiting for the opportunity to grab it as swiftly and as smoothly as possible… quiet as a mouse, and gone without a trace. Gone. Just like that.

Thankfully, she had the decency to leave my iPhone in my bag, which had also been sitting on top. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if the iPhone had gone too. It makes you realize how much we rely on these things. It’s crazy, a few years ago we didn’t even have mobile phones and yet now they are everything to us – they are our phonebooks, calendars, navigation tools, alarm clocks, daily reminders, music players,… the list goes on and it doesn’t bear thinking about.

So anyway, there I was in the store in sheer panic due to the fact I was completely lost for what to do. Someone told me to call the police and I thought to myself “What are they going to do about it? The person that robbed me is already long gone and especially by the time the police arrive!” Plus I thought “Surely the police have better things to be doing than dealing with a petty crime such as this”. Regardless, I couldn’t think straight so I chose to listen to others in the belief that they may be thinking with more of a sound mind than me in that moment, and so I made my phone call to the police, which was swiftly followed by a call to my bank.

The bank almost refused to cancel my cards because as a fairly new resident of USA, I didn’t know my social security number off by heart. I didn’t take no for an answer however!! I had to swear and curse a few times but eventually I convinced them to use alternative means to verify who I was. And I’m glad I did because the lady that robbed me was already clocking up 200$ spend as we spoke.

You may be wondering how I know it was a girl that took my purse if I never saw her take it..right? Well, that’s when I went into detective mode. After waiting and delivering my report to the police, my friend and I began to re-trace some of the steps my thief had taken (we did this mainly to see if she had discarded my purse somewhere on the street, but unfortunately we couldn’t find it). The bank had told me where she had so far used my cards so I knew of two places to check. Off we went in search of two mystery locations – “Amsterdam Boutique” and “Tribeca Bagels”. By the time we arrived at the Amsterdam Boutique it had closed but Tribeca Bagels was situated just across the street. We went inside and asked the Shop Assistant if he could recall a card being declined. He could. I managed to get a description of the perpetrator, plus I managed to confirm that despite my bank card being cancelled, she was instead able to use my Payflex card, a debit card I use to pay for healthcare, in order to pay for cigarettes (of all things!). The Shop Assistant told me she’d even used MY I.D. to verify the card payment. Now that’s something that really didn’t make much sense to me. The description he provided of the thief sounded nothing like me, so how could she use my photo I.D. as verification?? Why would he have accepted that?? Why didn’t he call the police at this point?? (sigh).

Despite my additional detective efforts, the damage was already done. Yes, I had a few more details that I could provide the police report but it didn’t make me feel any better.

You see, the thing about what happened is that it doesn’t just affect your bank balance. And at the end of the day, the money doesn’t matter. The fact is, I hope to get my money back by filing a fraud report. In the end, the real damage done is to your personal wellbeing. When something happens to you like this, it affects your confidence. It may take me a while before I feel comfortable out in the street or in the stores. But should I ever even let my guard back down again? 

I had plans that evening. I was double booked in fact. I cancelled everything. I couldn’t be outside anymore. I needed comfort. I went home and cried, all night. I had a pit in my stomach. I felt sick. I felt violated. I felt vulnerable. I am super independent and usually it doesn’t bother me to live on another continent to my family, but that night, I felt so far away from my loved ones that I was inconsolable. The time difference meant I couldn’t talk to them either, so I felt very alone. The whole thing really shook me up and made me feel very uneasy about my foreign home. I didn’t sleep well that night or really for the next week.

It took me about a week of constant phone calls to various card companies and to the police in order to resolve everything that was lost. I also had to put a freeze on my accounts. It was an awful lot of stress and a total waste of my valuable time.

Despite my experience, I love New York and I don’t blame what happened on this city at all. It could have happened anywhere. This city is full of marvellous GOOD people. This city is deeply special to me and will continue to be so. Ain’t nothing gonna stop me living here and ain’t nothing gonna stop me from enjoying life! 🙂

I’ll take 3 positives away from this: 1. I now know my social security number off by heart after repeating it so many times on phone calls to the multiple card companies, 2. I now know that when calling those automated card services that I have to respond in an American accent in order for them to recognise what I’m saying, and most importantly 3. I will never let my guard down again, no matter where I am. 

My message to you all now is BE PREPARED and BE ALERT. Read my recommendations below….hopefully you can take something positive away from my experience too:

1. Know what your course of action is before you have to take it. I felt lost when in that moment of panic and couldn’t think straight.

2. Be selective about what you carry in your handbag. Don’t carry something with you if it’s not necessary. I had additional information about myself in the purse she took, additional information that could affect security of my personal identity. Information that I could have avoided carrying with me.

3. Perhaps leave one card at home so that you always have an emergency back up card. When the thief stole my purse it was a Saturday evening – I had no money, no cards and none of the banks were open until Monday. I had nothing.

4. As I discovered, the phone lines for Payflex (debit card for healthcare payments) and Etrac (debit card for transit payments) are not open on weekends, so you might want to consider leaving these cards out of your purse as I was unable to cancel them until 8am Monday morning. Meanwhile, my thief had free reign of them all weekend which caused me a lot of undue stress.

5. Make a personal note of everything you have in your purse and keep it somewhere safe at home. I struggled to remember what was in there when I needed to.

6. Always be vigilant no matter where you are. Be safe, not sorry.

I hope by sharing my story, I can prevent something from happening to you. Please share with your friends and stay safe!!

Here’s wishing you all a jolly time this Christmas (hopefully with no appearances from the thieving Jolly Rogers out there).

Happy Holidays everyone!! 🙂

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