“What if I lose this?”
That’s the question I should’ve asked myself more often. I hope you will ask the question now so that you don’t get caught after the fact.
I came back from work one evening only to see my home was broken into. Burglars smashed a window and climbed in. They rummaged through my cabinets and drawers, dumping everything on the floor. I was told by the police they were looking for cash, guns, and jewelry.
They were very thorough. They pulled empty shoe boxes down from the top shelf in my closet. They pulled out a cookie jar from the deep end of my kitchen cabinet just to see if I hid something in it. They found letters I wrote to my wife years ago which I didn’t even know she kept.
In the end they took our Social Security cards, some leftover foreign currencies from our trips to Europe and Canada, the NetSpend prepaid cards with a little bit of money on them, another credit card we sidelined, a grocery store gift card, our national park pass, our stash of paper I Bonds, and, what concerns me the most, our extra door key and car keys. I can’t fathom why they took the keys unless they were going to make a repeat visit.
I was not prepared for this at all. It was my fault. When we pay attention to digital security with strong passwords, security questions and answers, two-factor authentication and what not, the more obvious vulnerability is actually in our physical security. What separated my home and the burglars was just glass.
After spending days on cleaning up the mess and thinking about what I could’ve done better, I came up with these lessons.
Lock and Alarm
Prevention is of course always the best. The police told me even putting a small lock on the side gate will help. The truly determined can always get in but adding a small degree of difficulty may just discourage them enough from trying.
I bought programmable light switches. They will turn on lights at random times to create an impression the home is occupied when we are away.
I ordered the SimpliSafe home security system. The set of equipment cost about $400. Monitoring will cost $15/month. It’s another expense and a hassle to arm and disarm, but you just hope it’s enough to scare the burglars away once the alarm is triggered.
Safe Deposit Box
I also got a safe deposit box at a bank. They can’t take what I don’t keep in my home. Even though U.S. Treasury will replace lost or stolen paper savings bonds, I shouldn’t have kept those bonds in my home.
Getting a safe deposit box was actually more difficult than I thought. In theory every bank offers them. When I actually wanted one, several bank branches near me all said their boxes were all taken. It’s a sign the boxes are priced too low. I finally found one. It costs $3/month.
The burglars didn’t take my laptops this time but they very well could. It means I need to beef up my backup system. I can lose the hardware but I don’t want to lose the files.
I put files that don’t change (old photos) onto an external hard drive. It will serve as my archive. I put it into the safe deposit box. I bought an ultra-compact USB flash drive smaller than the size of a nickel for my daily backups of new and changed files. I plugged it into the back of my router. If thieves take my laptops I figure they probably won’t bother with my router. The 128GB flash drive only costs $35. It’s large enough for incremental files. Then once a year I will move a new batch of files to the archive.
I already upload important electronic documents to FidSafe but I haven’t done so with paper documents I already have. I will go through what I have left and digitize the important ones.
I have a Brother all-in-one laser printer with scanner. It works well enough for me. A smartphone app or simply taking a picture with your phone can also work.
I heard about credit freeze but I had been lazy. Now that they stole our Social Security cards, I froze our credit with all three major credit bureaus. Here are the links:
Costs vary by state. For us it’s $10 per person per bureau to freeze and another $10 each to thaw when needed. It’s going to make opening new accounts more difficult. That’s the price you pay.
Social Security Administration uses the identification service from a credit bureau in setting up your my Social Security account online. It doesn’t work when you have a credit freeze. Maybe create your my Social Security account online first before you freeze your credit. Otherwise you’d have to present yourself at a local Social Security office.
Because I didn’t take the prevention steps I had to do damage control after the fact. Replacing the window glasses cost a few hundred dollars. Replacing the door lock was easy enough. Getting new car keys and reprogramming the cars to “forget” the stolen keys cost another few hundred dollars. I filed forms with the Treasury Department to have our stolen I Bonds replaced as electronic bonds in our TreasuryDirect accounts. I went to the local Social Security office to request a replacement Social Security card. I notified the banks of unauthorized charges on our credit card and NetSpend prepaid cards.
The burglars are local. I could see where they went shopping from the unauthorized charges. They ate at fast food restaurants. They bought jeans. They rented DVDs from Redbox. They bought acne treatment products (really??) from a kiosk. Several charges listed a phone number from which the charges were incurred. It’s likely a burglar’s phone number.
Residential burglary is a felony in my state, punishable by 2-6 years in a state prison. If the police really want to catch the burglars they can probably trace them from those transactions. Of course the criminals know the police are busy with more serious crimes. They are not afraid at all to leave traces all over.
Losing the sense of physical security is terrible. Have you been a victim of a crime? What else do you think I should do?
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