My laptop was stolen a few years ago in London, and I swore I would never take my eyes off my things again. But my resolve dissolved over the years and I just recently lost around $10,000 of gear to a lucky pickpocket in Stockholm. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it can definitely happen to you.
It hurts. A lot. But fortunately there are steps you can take to gracefully recover.
Know that everything is going to be okay.
Everything really is going to be okay. Ask a friend for help—theft can make the world around you feel untrustworthy and unsafe, and having somebody on your team is a nice reminder that the important things are still with you.
Take note of everything you lost.
Write down a detailed list with information about every stolen item. This documentation matters to many of the parties you need to deal with. Try to include the manufacturer, model, serial number, color, quantity, estimated cost, photos of the item, and a description of when and how it was stolen. It’s okay if you don’t remember everything—just be as specific as you can.
For example, I listed my stolen backpack as my 1 Brown Leather Gillis Trafalgar Rucksack, £279.00, stolen from under the table in front of me at a coffee shop by Arlanda Station in Stockholm.
File a police report.
The sooner you file a police report, the better. Most insurance claims will require you submit one, and some only accept police reports filed within 48 hours of the incident. Get a copy for yourself. A police report will be your muscle with insurance claims and your armor against fraud.
If you’re abroad, head to the local police station. My recent police report was entirely in Swedish, but the fact that I’d filed it the day of the incident meant the difference between getting purchase protection insurance cash and not getting it.
Getting your money back.
The Insurance Route
If you have homeowners or renters insurance, your policy likely includes protection for personal property. Most policies have a few provisions around what kind of theft is covered, so give your agent a call to get the best handle on your options.
Going this route may lift your premiums, so you may prefer to absorb the loss, especially if your deductible is higher than a reasonable fraction of the replacement cost.
The Purchase Protection Route
Some credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or American Express Platinum come with Purchase Protection as a cardholder benefit. This may not apply to you, but if it does, these policies are your best friend.
A google search for your credit card + “purchase protection” should reveal the policy if it exists, but get in touch with your credit card issuer to get an accurate answer.
These policies typically protect purchases made within 90 or 120 days of the incident and have a maximum claim amount. For example, the Chase Marriott card will reimburse up to $500 versus $10,000 with the Amex Platinum.
The claim process is like any other insurance claim, so be prepared with your itemized list, a police report, and receipts. These claims will often require a “statement of no insurance” as well, which is a document you sign legally establishing purchase protection as your final move of desperation.
The Creative Route
If this theft has you strapped for cash, gear, and options, consider asking for help. If this gear is what you need to pursue your passion, it’s more than okay to share your story with your network. People often like to fight against injustices like theft that befalls their most passionate and talented friends.
It only takes a few moments to launch a GoFundMe, and the product provides no shortage of tools for sharing your cause with your extended network.
Protecting your identity.
If your wallet, passport, social security card, or other identifying information is in someone else’s hands, don’t delay in making sure they can’t walk a mile in your shoes.
Give your bank a call to freeze your cards and request new ones. They may be able to help you withdraw cash or make purchases as well. If your passport was stolen, get in touch with the closest embassy or consulate. If your social security card was stolen, you can contact SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to start the process of replacing it.
If your phone or laptop are gone, Apple’s Find My Phone feature can help you remotely wipe them of all personal data. Google will also log you out of all accounts across devices.
Finally, change every password. It’s arguably the best way to guard your identity—especially if your browsers save login information to your accounts.
Taking matters into your own hands.
Personally, I don’t endorse chasing people down. I tracked a stolen iPhone to a park in San Francisco, but after weighing the potential costs of my vigilantism, I decided to eat the cost. Be thankful it’s just stuff and not you. Seeking out a thief is a reliable way to add your safety to the loss column.
This is security camera footage of a man stealing my phone in San Francisco. You’ll see me blindly walk past him. I elected not to seek him out when I discovered he’d stolen it.
Feel free to start looking. You can check local pawn shops or log on to a local Craigslist, but if you do find it, let the police know, and let them do the heavy lifting.
Protecting yourself against theft.
There are countless things you can do to help guard yourself from theft: don’t store things in carry backpacks in front of you, wear a theft belt, don’t carry cash. But it’s not easy to keep an eye on things 100% of the time, and the sad reality is that theft does happen.
The best advice I can offer is to be emotionally and logistically prepared for theft. Back up data, separate your belongings into different bags, and avoid carrying too much with you at once.
But most importantly, you are not the sum of your stuff, and your talent is certainly not constrained by your gear. If you do suffer theft, know you’ll recover and the adversity will make you more resolute than ever before.