A Crime of Opportunity
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written by Jeanne
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I’m the type of person who is careful. I hold my purse tightly against my torso when I’m in a shopping mall. I have my keys clutched ready to gouge at a person in a deserted parking garage. But consider my surprise when my purse was snatched in an art class—a place where I have always felt safe.
 
 
The scene: A class at the community club that serves the rural neighborhood 10 minutes away from a metropolis. A young man enters and asks to use the restroom, grabs my purse and disappears in seconds. The class immediately follows but he has vanished with my belongings. 

Cell phone service does not work in the area even if I still had mine. A neighbor hears the commotion and calls 911.The police arrive, but a search of the area provides no suspects nor anyone who saw the thief. I am given a case number and told to call a detective. 

A female reporter’s purse is not only filled with the usual woman’s paraphernalia— wallet, credit cards, $20, partially used gift cards, a checkbook, makeup, glasses, brush and cell phone—but also with career necessities of a digital camera, tape recorder, notebooks and an assortment of pens. The total haul: over $1,500 in one quick moment of thievery. And the shock that this could happen anywhere.

But with any crime, there are always mistakes. This one was a classroom full of artists who sketch a composite drawing of the thief. A description is created and is given to the police.

I spend the rest of the afternoon putting my financial life in order. I call credit card companies closing accounts and visit my bank closing and opening a new account. I discontinue my cell phone account and am told I will have to pay for the remaining contract even if I don’t buy a new phone. Or buy out the contract in the amount of $300. 
 
Equifax. I will need to periodically check every few months to see if any new accounts are opened in my name for the next several years. At DMV the clerk insists on seeing a photo of me [don’t they have the old photo from my driver’s license?]. My companion displays a picture of me with my dog. The clerk smiles and takes another photograph of an angst ridden woman sans lipstick or brush to untangle her hair. Frustrated that this will be a dreadful driver’s license photo that I will have to carry for years, I’m really upset.

I call the Federal Trade Commission for a fraud alert. I listen to the recordings describing identity theft as the crime de jour until I finally talk to a representative who attaches my name with a fraud alert. She says I will need to contact Telecheck and Certegy so that any checks written will be stopped at the merchant verifying the check. Certegy handles the request on the phone. Telecheck requires an affidavit from the bank and a police report. I call my insurance agent. With a $500 deductible, I could file a claim but am informed my homeowner’s policy premium will rise by 20 percent!
I can now add purse stolen to my life experience list. And if experience is the best teacher, the less surprised you become. I’ve heard that Europeans expect unpleasant things to happen. Americans believe that life should be happy. Even our founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

A phone call the next morning reveals that a Good Samaritan has found my social security card on the sidewalk of a busy street five miles away from the incident and reminding me that most people are good. A search of the immediate area proves fruitless. The understanding of victimization becomes very real as I realize the items in my purse could be strewn around the valley. And as a photojournalist who carries her workplace in her purse, I struggle to replace important items.

Monday I call the detective assigned to my case. I learn that the composite sketch may help with other crimes of the same nature. 

“We advise people to keep their possessions close to them,” said the detective. “If they’re walking the parks, keep them locked in the trunk. If there are lockers, use them. This type of crime can happen anywhere. It’s a crime of opportunity.”

In the end, the thief used my cell phone calling the same number a few times. He tried to access money with my credit card at an ATM randomly guessing my pin number and was captured on a surveillance camera at the store. The information was passed on to the detective but more urgent cases and staff shortages prevented an arrest of my “crime of opportunity” purse snatcher. 
As for me, I travel a lot lighter. I have another purse and another perfect lipstick tube. I’ve replaced my wallet, digital camera and cell phone. But I carry something new: pepper spray.
 
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