We've Been Robbed!
September 24, 2004 12:43 AM   Subscribe

So we were burglarized sometime today while we were at work. My wife came home and found the front door open and the rooms completely tossed, just like in the movies. In some ways we're counting ourselves lucky, because they only took two cameras, a couple bottles of vodka, and our fire safe. On the other hand, the safe contained basically everything about us- our passports, our Social Security cards, marriage certificate, titles to the condo and car, photocopies of our credit cards(in case the originals were stolen, natch), bank account info, etc. Two questions: 1) are we fucked? 2) burglar alarm systems...yea or nay? [mi]

I just spent the last 5 hours or so changing all the locks in my condo, adding a new heavy deadbolt to the wooden gate at the top of the back steps that open onto our back porch, and adding two new heavy-duty window locks to the kitchen window that the bastards used to climb in through, as well as a homemade improvised window jamb to keep it from being forced open even if they managed to break the locks.

Question 1: We've already called the credit card companies and the bank, as well as the credit bureaus. I know we can get replacements for the passports, marriage and drivers licenses and titles, and I've found info online about getting a new SS card, but just how fucked are we? While I was on the phone with one of the CC companies, the thieves tried to charge something to the card I was calling about, and although it was immediately shut down I'm worried that with our SS numbers and tons of other identifying information they can make things very miserable for a long time, maybe the rest of our lives. Is this so? Anyone have any experience with identity theft?

Question 2: All of the police who showed up (two beat cops who were very polite and professional, two evidence investigators, and a campus police oficer [we live in Hyde Park in Chicago, near the University of Chicago]) told us the best thing is to install an alarm system. I've done a little looking in the last 15 minutes and the prices aren't THAT horrible, but is it worth it?

Sorry for the long-winded post....
posted by 40 Watt to Home & Garden (20 answers total)
One of the things you need to consider is contacting the three big credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and the other one) and explain your situation. I believe that in some states (maybe not Illinois yet) there is a new feature that allows the owner to "lock" their credit report so that identity thieves cannot take out loans or impersonate others without a reference check back to the identity owner. That's something to be concerned about.

I'm surprised the firesafe wasn't bolted down to your floor. You may want to look into that option for your next firesafe (if you are not gunshy about that...)
posted by gen at 1:11 AM on September 24, 2004

I honestly wouldn't worry that much about the SS#s, 40 watt. In my experience it's not that unusual to come across a stranger's number, and I don't think it represents much of a find for the burglar. And vodka? Most likely not the identity theft types. There are a lot easier and better ways to do than that burglarizing a home.

An alarm would certainly be good. A lot of burglars follow the path of least resistance and wouldn't want to fuss with even a simple system unless there's a lot of $ clearly waiting for them.
posted by shoos at 1:29 AM on September 24, 2004

gen-- I think maybe the kind of firesafe we had may or may not have been able to bolt down, I'm not sure. Although, of course, there's no real way to check at this point. :) But you damn betcha I'll be getting one that DOES bolt down next time, for sure.

shoos-- There's definitely a lot of $ waiting for them. I'm a DJ at a local radio station, and have several thousand dollars worth of music in the house(not to mention the several thousand dollars worth of computer equipment I'm currently typing this on right now). Plus turntable, stereo equipment, a moderately-sized TV, etc. I'm already thinking that the investment in an inexpensive alarm system might not be a bad idea regardless. (One of the comments that a cop made in passing is that now that the burglar has seen how much stuff my wife and I have in the place, he might come back with some buddies.) I hate the idea of buying into the whole culture of fear, but on the other hand...I've worked hard for my shit, and I don't want some crackhead busting up the joint.
posted by 40 Watt at 1:52 AM on September 24, 2004

Oh, and it's not JUST the SSN that worries me...it's the SSN plus all of the other identifying info like mom's maiden name, birth certificates, passports, and whatnot. Seems like it's be pretty easy to get some crazy amounts of stuff with all of that.

Maybe I'm just getting paranoid. It is 4 AM, after all. Guess I'll sleep on it.
posted by 40 Watt at 1:54 AM on September 24, 2004

I should have said "...know there's a lot of $ waiting for them."

But still, I think the likelihood that they'll be back is very small, unless they're aspiring DJs. Tons of people have nice computers and TVs and I'm sure these jackwads know that.

They're not burglars because they're smart and like problem-solving.
posted by shoos at 2:07 AM on September 24, 2004

There's a good chance that if you've been burgled once then they'll come back as they know how to get in to the place, whether it's for your music stuff or whatever else you might have. Definitely take some new precautions to ensure that they can't do what they did before.
posted by biffa at 5:23 AM on September 24, 2004

Maybe consider a bank safe-deposit box instead of a home safe? (or alternatively, keeping important papers in the freezer or something? A visible safe is asking to be stolen.)

And what gen said about the big 3 credit agencies.

And, you might consider starting with the stickers you can get for the windows and door stating that the place is alarmed (you can hold off on the alarm itself, many find--that's often enough to make them move on to the next place)
posted by amberglow at 5:59 AM on September 24, 2004

I would second the use of a bank safe-deposit box in the future. The only disadvantage is that you can't get access to it outside of normal business hours, but for the kinds of things you had in your safe, that doesn't seem like it would be a problem.
posted by reverendX at 6:47 AM on September 24, 2004

I live at 53rd and Kimbark. In August 2003 I absent-mindedly left my back door unlocked for too long and someone made off with my TV. I become paranoid about locking the thing, but in October 2003 someone decided to kick it in and made off with a pair of speakers, a (half-broken) mini-stereo, and some cash. The cops did catch someone they suspected of a large number of burglaries in the neighbourhood a couple months later (some guy who had a heroin addiction to feed.)

So, if my case is anything like yours you can conclude: First, the burglar is looking for a quick infusion of cash, and it's less likely (but not impossible) that he'll try to steal your identity (too much effort.) Second, yes, the guy knows your place, and if you can install an alarm system you should.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:56 AM on September 24, 2004

Ditto on getting a safe deposit box at the bank for your important stuff. Also, I've been told that fire safes aren't very useful in case of fire. I quickly googled to find a cite and found the following (caveat - it was a usenet posting): "The fireproof safe is a good insulator. When the fire happens, the interior will remain cool. When the fire department puts water on the fire, a very dense cloud of mixed smoke and steam forms. This mix is drawn into the safe past the seals by the cool space inside. Once in, it condenses on everything inside the safe. Then the very acid smoke dissolves in the moisture and attacks everything."

Our house was burgled twice before we moved in, prompting us to have a monitored security system installed. You should steer away from a cheap, do it yourself system and go with a reputable firm. You'll appreciate not having your alarm go off in the middle of the night because of a false alarm, and it's usually not terribly expensive. You might want to ask your local constabulatary for a recommendation of a firm in your area. They tend to know the dependable operators.
posted by SteveInMaine at 7:07 AM on September 24, 2004

Getting renter's insurance to protect your investment in the non-stolen possessions you mention might ease your mind a bit? I also agree that getting an alarm system might not be a bad idea at all. It seems like criminals would be more likely to go back to a place loaded with expensive equipment that they had robbed once and gotten into easily than to try going to a new place they may not be able to get into and that might not have good stuff.

I'm really sorry this comment is so negative, and I don't mean to be induce paranoia, but I would also be concerned about identity theft myself. Don't count on the criminals being stupid. Even if they are, they may sell your documents to some other, non-stupid criminals in their entourage to use for evil. Calling the credit-reporting agencies sounds like a good idea. And when you talk to them, and to your credit-card companies, maybe you could ask their advice on how to prevent your identity from being stolen? Seems like they'd be the experts at this kind of thing.
posted by hazyjane at 7:16 AM on September 24, 2004

it's difficult--some would say impossible--to get a new SSN (you have to prove someone stole your identity, then demonstrate everything you have done to rehabilitate your stolen identity, and then show that that hasn't helped). i, personally, would worry greatly about a stolen SSN, coupled with a stolen marriage license and passport, as all the handy "verify who you are before we change the mailing address/up the credit limit/open a new card" questions have answers from those documents. i'd spend the next several days micromanaging my various accounts and the next couple of months checking in with the credit bureaus and the SSA. that's usually all it takes to prevent problems after the loss of your SSN and prevention is a million times easier than rehabilitation.

but then, i tend to be paranoid about this. (and though i wouldn't worry too much about these particular guys using your identities, there is a growing market for the information)

as for the rest of it, anecdotally, most of the b&e cases i have handled involve guys hitting the same house, or the house next door. so, i think changing the locks, reinforcing the gates and the windows is a good idea. you can also get those window alarms which sound when the window is opened.

you should also contact the cook county registrar of deeds (it's at clark and randolph) and DMV about the stolen titles. (which i'm sure you've already done) (generally, you can't have a valid claim with a stolen title, but there are some esoteric exceptions to this rule--i don't do property law--and again, ounce of prevention > pound of cure)
posted by crush-onastick at 7:25 AM on September 24, 2004

Re: Identity theft. A class on this was available in my workplace, so I took advantage. I marched right out of it and signed up for Equifax's Credit Watch service, and I recommend the same to everyone.

It doesn't matter if the thieves are likely to use your information for themselves--that's not usually how it works. Identity theft is an ubiquitous and complex business. What they will likely do is sell your items to someone who can use them. The worth of the ID depends upon the quality of the information (in your case, very high) and your credit rating. One of the more sinister scams is to open a credit account, and immediately call and have the address changed--so you never know until your credit is ruined unless you have a watch service.

So, no, you're not screwed, but you'll need to be able to keep a close eye on things from now on.
posted by frykitty at 7:35 AM on September 24, 2004

This incident points out how utterly useless a fire safe is. You could have just as easily kept all those papers in file folders in a desk drawer. Even if the average burglar HAD stumbled across them, he would have ignored them.
posted by mischief at 7:47 AM on September 24, 2004

Thanks to everyone for the loads of helpful advice. We decided we're definitely going to get an alarm system installed, especially considering the rash of burglaries in Hyde Park lately...I figure it can't hurt to be overcautious.

The lady and I also have talked about a safe deposit box as well...looking at some of the comments, I think this is definitely the way to go. That, and some of the credit reporting tools mentioned above.

Many thanks again for all the comments. If anyone else have any further input, please don't hesitate to drop it on me.
posted by 40 Watt at 8:36 AM on September 24, 2004

This incident points out how utterly useless a fire safe is.

Except in case of, like, a fire.

Do you live in a pet friendly complex? If so, how about a Beware of Dog sticker on the front door? We use one in our front yard. Our three dogs would more than likely lick the strangers to death before bite them, but the intruders don't know that, plus the dogs bark crazily at any sound outside, which along with the sign would be enough to make me back off, were I a burglar.

You could also make it known around the complex that you were robbed. Chances are, there is some elderly person or stay-at-homer that can at the very least be aware that keeping an eye out would be a good idea. There will probably even be other residents who would be interested in a neighborhood watch sort of thing.
posted by archimago at 9:00 AM on September 24, 2004

We got a security system after our house was burglarized. The only times it's gone off is when we accidently open a door before turning off the system, but it does make us feel a little better.

If you had a telephone calling card information in that safe, don't forget to contact your telephone company. Because you're about to get a great big bill for calls made all over the world.
posted by maurice at 9:10 AM on September 24, 2004

I've been reading a book lately that was pretty helpful interms of realistically assessing what makes you more vulnerable to identity theft. It includes some good best/worst case scenarios, isn't trying to sell you anything and is easy and pretty interesting to read. The author has a ton of little bulleted lists of things you can do to keep your identity more secure that you might want to run down checklist-style. I'd worry more about getting on some damned BS "do not fly" list than someone racking up some credit card debt. The book is called Prying eyes : protect your privacy from people who sell to you, snoop on you, and steal from you by Eric J. Gertler [find it at a local library] and despite its title, is really pretty clear-headed and non paranoid. Includes lots of good contact info, URLs and phone numbers for people you want to get ahold of.
posted by jessamyn at 9:21 AM on September 24, 2004

As shoos said, the fact that they stole vodka is pretty fishy. My guess is they are under-age or are the types of crooks who would rather get drunk than steal your identity. They probably made off with the safe because they expected gold-and-jewels inside.
posted by falconred at 9:59 AM on September 24, 2004

To all of those recommending safe deposit boxes: how did you get a box big enough to accommodate the files?? All of my local banks tell me that at best, a few inches of files could be stacked inside one, but that none offers a box big enough to let files stand up or that can hold a fire safe or two worth of documents.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:23 PM on September 24, 2004

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