Bola was at her friend’s father’s 80th birthday party last Saturday night. It was a huge party in the banquet hall of a major hotel. Hundreds of people were milling around, the music was far too loud and there was much food, drink and festivity.
The Master of Ceremonies announced a special dance for the celebrant’s children and their friends. Bola is usually very careful with her handbag and often even dances with it in hand. But on this occasion – perhaps it was the size of her bag and the merriment that made her let her guard down – she “discretely” placed her hand bag under the draped table by her seat, assuming that no one was watching. Her secure world changed in an instant.
What was stolen?
Bola’s handbag and all its contents were stolen including her International Passport: she had recently returned from a trip abroad and had not changed her handbag. Other items included an ostrich skin wallet with cash sums of N16,000, $610 and £400, three bank debit cards linked to her current accounts, one credit card, an iphone 6 and a blackberry, both without password protection, her Driver’s License, Vehicle Insurance Card, Tax ID Card, Car keys, house and Office Keys, a bank statement addressed to her home address, company photo ID card with the company address, mini Canon digital camera with hundreds of photos from her recent holiday, iPad mini, reading glasses, Versace sunglasses, make up bag, pocket diary and address book, and two phone chargers.
Calling for help
Bola was unable to call for help immediately as she didn’t know any family or friends’ numbers by heart. She didn’t have her bank’s help line numbers or her own account details or card numbers, so was unable to act until she got a ride home where she rifled through documents to find an appropriate helpline.
Bola had no cash at home but fortunately her friend lent her some money and the use of her phone as she began the desperate task of calling her bank and mobile phone company emergency help line numbers.
“The number you are calling does not exist” and “this number is not available” were the annoying recorded messages that kept recurring. By the time she finally got through, much damage had already been done. The banks all confirmed that they had suspended her cards, and would carry out a thorough fraud investigation.” The loss of her passport could have far reaching consequences of identity theft so it was important the she wrote a statement at the nearest police station. She also had to report her passport stolen to two embassies whose valid visas the passport was carrying.
Within 15 minutes of the theft, the experienced thieves had, with information in her diary and mobile phones already managed to decipher the PIN numbers on two of the three debit cards as well as her credit card. They had also withdrawn N80,000 in cash from one account and N100,000 from another. To help her remember all her PIN numbers, she simply used her birthdate.
After helping themselves to cash at an ATM, the thieves went on a shopping spree at a late night shopping mall and spent N38, 000 on groceries, take away meals, some electronics including a television, and some speakers.
If this had happened to you, would you have fared better than Bola? It is possible to be prepared for such an unpleasant incident. Should you fall prey to bag thieves, here are a dozen proactive, practical steps you can take to minimize the risk;
1. Your passwords, PINs and other sensitive information should not be stored on your mobile phone.
2. Avoid carrying around documents that have your name, address or other personal details on them.
3. Memorize the telephone numbers of a few close family members as well as people that may be in a position to help you, should you find yourself in a difficult situation.
4. Always have some emergency cash on you. How much cash do you actually need to have on you? Carry just what you need with a little extra.
5. Regularly back up all your files including contact names and numbers.
6. Have the card issuers help line numbers handy so that you can immediately report them stolen and have them suspended. They are usually posted in the ATM booths.
7. Have your mobile phone company help line numbers handy so that you can immediately call to have your line blocked.
8. How many debit and credit cards do you have? Do you need to have more than two? Avoid carrying all of them on you at the same time.
9. Keep securely photocopies of all your credit/debit cards, and any other sensitive personal and financial documents. These will come in handy when you need to cancel or suspend them quickly and get replacements.
10. Always keep your purse/wallet on you or ensure that someone is looking after it whilst you are distracted.
Handbags, purses and wallets are extremely lucrative items for thieves. Amidst the distractions of a great party, be mindful of the fact that that there may be well-dressed, uninvited guests whose primary objective is to make away with your valuables. Whilst it is impossible to secure yourself totally from thieves, by being aware, and putting some simple measures in place, you can limit the damage, should you become a victim.
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Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Michael Spring