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Is foul play responsible?
March 18, 2006 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Things are starting to disappear from the house. What's your best advice on catching a possible thief who appears trustworthy?

Two portable electronics devices -- an iPod and a PSP -- have vanished over the last month. We don't have a lot of people over the house -- generally a couple of adult extended family members a handful of times a month, and a cleaning lady who is at the house two times a week. She has been with us for more than a year, is quiet and does a good job. But she is often there while no one else is home. Both these devices were being used by my 11-year-old who is a typical pre-teen and misplaces things. But he didn't leave the house with these items and what he misplaces eventually shows up. It is several weeks now, and having turned the house upside down, we are now suspicious that someone swiped them. How would you handle the situation? Let it go and watch carefully in the futuure, or attempt pursue it in a more direct way?
posted by terrier319 to Human Relations (19 answers total)
 
Find a good bait item, leave it in the same room as a computer that you always leave on, and buy a cheap webcam to keep watch of it.. There's software out there that will monitor and start recording when it senses movement...

Worst case scenario is you don't find anything, and you've wasted maybe $25 or so on a webcam...
posted by twiggy at 11:56 AM on March 18, 2006


have vanished over the last month

Seems like it should be easy to make a list of every single person you know to have been in the house in the past month and start asking simple questions. "I think my kid may have misplaced X. When you were here, did you happen to see...?"

Both these devices were being used by my 11-year-old who is a typical pre-teen and misplaces things.

But my initial thought is that the kid did indeed take these things out of the house and either lost them or "loaned" them to a friend and now can't get them back and he/she's now too embarassed to say it. Happened to me when I was a kid. I'm sorry to say that I once traded a favorite toy for -- literally -- a piece of rubber bicycle brake a "friend" claimed was a super-magnet. I was so mortified that I had gotten screwed over so easily that I was unable to fess up.
posted by frogan at 12:26 PM on March 18, 2006


Yeah. You're obviously tempted to blame the cleaner, but I give you a 99% chance that the kid did it. Don't make a big deal of it and they'll probably confess eventually (alternatively, tell the kid you're firing the cleaner for it and see if they feel guilty enough to confess).
posted by reklaw at 12:31 PM on March 18, 2006


alternatively, tell the kid you're firing the cleaner for it and see if they feel guilty enough to confess

Yeah, but what happens if the kid doesn't confess? (There's no evidence yet that he's the guilty party, or he could be made of really stern stuff.) Then terrier319 either has to fire the cleaner (with no evidence that she's the gulity party, either) or is exposed as a maker-of-empty-threats.
posted by Pigpen at 12:47 PM on March 18, 2006


If your son hasn't simply lost them, I'd wager one of his friends is a likelier thief than the housekeeper. Someone who swipes stuff on impulse would have a hard time keeping a lid on that impulse for a year. Also, she knows she'd be an obvious suspect, and is cognizent of the consequences. She'd be pretty stupid to come back unless she's planning to make one last high dollar haul. Whereas an 11-year mind can find it awfully easy to rationalize theft as no more than "I want. Therefore I should have."

Also, resale value notwithstanding, these are two items that make an 11-year old's eye glow.

Seems like it should be easy to make a list of every single person you know to have been in the house in the past month and start asking simple questions. "I think my kid may have misplaced X. When you were here, did you happen to see...?"

Good idea. Frame it as trying to trace back its last known appearance. Which, by the way, is a good thing to do anyway. When I lose something, usually no matter how impossible it is that it could currently be at X, if X is where it was last seen, X is almost surely where it gets found. Go figure.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:57 PM on March 18, 2006


Based on your theory and its lack of evidence, I would definitely not "attempt to pursue it in a more direct way."
posted by cribcage at 1:06 PM on March 18, 2006


I second the idea that your son's friends are the most likely culprits. Maybe call their parents?

"Hey, Johnny's dad here. My son lost his iPod, it is black, a 20 gb model, and we have just torn the house apart looking for it. He is pretty sure that he did not leave it at a friends house, but you know how kids are. Has anything like that turned up at your house? Could you keep an eye out? Thanks, Johnny is pretty upset and I sure appreciate that."

With any luck, this could click with a parent who has been wondering how his 11 year old got an iPod. Good luck.
posted by LarryC at 1:07 PM on March 18, 2006


LarryC -- I really like that idea. If Johnny's friend Freddy magically racks up a new black iPod, Freddy's parents might do the detective work for you.

It probably isn't the housekeeper. I'm assuming you checked her references, and my personal experience is that most of them are professionals who care about their jobs and reputation. I wouldn't go any farther than asking if she has seen the items and if not, can she be on the lookout for them - same as the friends.

If you want to catch a thief, install 3 or 4 very inconspicuous web remote security cameras which have motion detection to cover areas that collect expensive items, rerunning the feed every time someone is over.

It also might not hurt to file police reports now for missing items, even though they won't go anywhere. That way, if a thief does turn up, there is an official record of things going missing.
posted by mrmojoflying at 1:28 PM on March 18, 2006


Another vote for the kid or his friends. A thief housekeeper would take cash that's laying around or something that's not so obvious as a piece of electronic equiptment. Those are both items that a young boy would be more likely to take than my admittedly stereotypical vision of a middle aged lady who probably doesn't earn enough to buy games for the PSP or subscribe to iTunes to use the ipod.
posted by gatorae at 2:05 PM on March 18, 2006


Quick Tip: Parents arn't stupid. Nor are your relatives or friends. No matter how you word things, they are going to figure out that you are asking because you think someone stole it. Your family and friends will not be happy that you think they may have stolen it. Those parents will especially be unhappy that you think their child may have stolen it, as that directly reflects on their parenting abilities.

The best way to go about this would be to tell them up front that you are asking everyone that had access to your house. This will work with a few people, but others will just get pissed because they think they should have been left off that list, because they are relatives or close friends, and there's no way they would do that to you, and you know it.

So basically, if you plan to do this, expect to offend 50% of the people enough that they are going to call you on it, and the other 50% will get offended, but won't call you on it. This is a great way to piss off everyone that's been to your house in the last month, and insure that they don't come to visit for a good while.

That being said, what should you do? You can try the webcam and cool item thing. Most likely, your 11 year old will find the item interesting, and pick it up and move it so the camera doesn't cover it. If you tell him, and it's him or his friends, you have a good chance that it won't get touched, as he tells his friends not to touch it because they are trying to catch a thief.

I'd just lay down a few simple rules. Don't leave valuables laying around, be careful who you invite over, cut down on the number of guests, and limit the number of friends your child can have over at a time. Don't leave guests alone for long periods.

And don't fire the cleaning lady. There's a very low chance that it's her, and because she's quiet and doesn't interact in the household much, your child most likely would not feel guilty that she's blamed, but feel relieved that he won't be caught, as he has no emotional attachement. Assuming he just lost them and has been covering, anyway.
posted by Phynix at 2:20 PM on March 18, 2006


Oh, almost forgot.

Any parent that only wonders how his 11 year old acquired a $200+ electronic item and doesn't question him, call around a few parents and do a basic check of their kids story.... doesn't care how he got it, and will immediatly deny any question of his child having it. Any household where a new item like this wouldn't be questioned means that there is plenty of money in the house, and their child probably already has those items, or the allowance to get them anyway.
posted by Phynix at 2:27 PM on March 18, 2006


Who is more likely to steal a video game machine, your cleaner, or an eleven year old? Investigate there first.
posted by Jairus at 7:59 PM on March 18, 2006


This:
Any parent that only wonders how his 11 year old acquired a $200+ electronic item and doesn't question him, call around a few parents and do a basic check of their kids story.... doesn't care how he got it, and will immediatly deny any question of his child having it.

and this:
Any household where a new item like this wouldn't be questioned means that there is plenty of money in the house, and their child probably already has those items, or the allowance to get them anyway.

need not involve the same household. There are plenty of families -- of various means -- who will not question where anything came from.
posted by acoutu at 9:40 PM on March 18, 2006


Who cares if you offend some parent who is turning a blind eye to their kid stealing? Not me. I would bet money it the kid losing the items or a freidns lifting them. Your kid may cover for the friend because kids that age are kind of stupid that way sometimes. I would definetely call around or if you see these parents a lot just mention that things are missing and ask them if it's happened to them too. You may find out that one kid has been stealing stuff all over town.
posted by fshgrl at 10:38 PM on March 18, 2006


The problem is with calling a list of potential theiving kids' parents, not just one. You are going to care when you offend the parents of a kid that didn't steal anything, and then have to explain to your 11 year old son why he has no more friends as all his friends parents don't let their kids hang out with him anymore, which would be because you called them all a bunch of thieves.

The problem is, calling them all is a logical solution. Just call them all, one by one, and they'll understand. Logic and Social Situations don't always go together, this is one of those examples. This is socially the wrong thing to do, and there will be social consequences to it.
posted by Phynix at 2:23 AM on March 19, 2006


Who cares if you offend some parent who is turning a blind eye to their kid stealing? Not me.

What about the parents of the kids who have not been stealing? A bit more tricky, no?
posted by sic at 3:52 AM on March 19, 2006


the kid may have sold them for some reason. is it possible he laundered the devices for money, favors, worse?
posted by Infernarl at 7:49 AM on March 19, 2006


What about the parents of the kids who have not been stealing? A bit more tricky, no?

Please note I suggeted calling them up telling them the situation and asking them if your child had in fact left them elsewhere (lying about not taking them out of the house is possible if he lost them) or if things have gone missing from their houses too. I didn't say call them up and accuse their children of theft. If you're reasonably sure there is a problem, letting the circle of parents know is the right thing to do. You are parents, it is your JOB to deal with this kind of shit when it starts happening in your childrens group of friends.

And like I said if it turns out some parent is turning a blind eye to their kids theiving, bfd if they get mad. They're an idiot and you don't want that kid around anyway. Maybe the kid will learn a valuable lesson their own parents are unwilling to teach them.
posted by fshgrl at 1:22 PM on March 19, 2006


If you tell the parents, they might let their kid keep it anyway.
posted by youarenothere at 3:32 PM on March 19, 2006


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