Wednesday, April 18, 2007

horror story

I spent the day with DS2’s class on a field trip to see The Wizard of Oz. It was a cute production and we had fun, and we didn’t get back to the school until after 2. I decided to hang around for the rest of the day, even though I was looking forward to just relaxing once we got home.

That was not to be. As soon as I drove up to the house, I knew something was wrong; the gate was open, and there was no reason it should be. I told the kids to wait in the car while I checked out the house. As soon as I opened the door into the house, I knew it would be bad: every light was on, every door was open. Various stuff was all over the floor, and the back door was wide open. Both cats were hanging out on the patio, Alice unperturbed, but Cooper looking spooked.

I grabbed the phone to call DH – do I call 911 or a different number? – and I tried to scoot the cats inside. Alice came willingly, but Cooper freaked out and ran around the house. I was terrified because the gate was open, and the last thing I wanted was for him to dash out into the street to get pancaked. I tore around him and closed the gate, and that was enough for him to wheel around and dash into the house.

So the cats were safe, and I got a hold of DH, and he said to call 911, so I went out to the car and told the kids what was up, and we waited for the police to come. While we waited, they got a bit scared so I took them over to our neighbors to wait it out; thank God she was home and said of course she would look after them. It was a relief not to have to worry about them while waiting for the police.

The officers came in short order, and went in to make sure the house was empty (the 911 operator made it clear to me I should get out of the house and stay out until the police had made sure that the thieves were gone.) Lots of blah-blah-blah with the officers, then waiting and waiting for the forensics unit to show up, then trying to figure out what surfaces might have good prints. The forensics officer noticed they had forced open the back door, which was something of a relief: at least we hadn’t left the house unlocked.

We had to list the things we’d noticed missing for the police, and assign approximate values. At this point, we had realized that both the ‘real’ computers were gone, as well as DS1’s PS2 – with his favorite Lego Star Wars game -- it may have been Lego Star Wars 2, actually -- and memory card with all his adventures on it – plus my digital camera, and the odd incidental: DS1’s really nice Eddie Bauer duffle bag. Bizarre.

Then started the long list of phone calls, the trip to the bank to close all our accounts and re-open new ones, the call to HP to try and reconstruct our computer configurations (and how much we paid for them), and every so often, the realization that something else was lost: the vast majority of our digital photos, my entire recipe database, and God knows how much of my website source and Farscape writing (ironically, I just assured Ross that I still had everything instantly available – man, I hope that’s still true. I know I have a backup around here somewhere, but I don’t know what format it’s in; have to find it.)

I’ve opened a claim with our insurance, and will be contacted by an adjuster in the next 2 days to figure it out.

If you’re wondering how this blog post is possible, the idiots who disrupted our lives, and took two hard-to-tote computers, completely overlooked the laptop that was sitting next to them. It’s about seven years old and running Windows 98, and it doesn’t even have an Ethernet connection – but by some weirdness, the wireless network (80211.b, yay!) still works, and so we’re not completely cut off from the ‘net. The left shift key doesn't work most of the time, and it does bizarre things from time to time that make typing up anything longer a real challenge, but at least it works.

For the record, in this situation -- coming into a home that has obviously been broken in to -- here's what you do:
1. Get out of the house, don't touch anything.

2. Call 911. The police will come and make sure there is no one left in the house and that it is safe for you to go back in. Don't touch anything unless they tell you it's OK.

3. Don't store your passwords to financial data sites or any other sensitive information in the computer without password protecting them also. We have a bunch of passwords built into our Quicken installation so it can download information from our accounts, but all of those passwords are in a "password vault" so they are shielded.

4. Treat the theft of the computer with financial information on it the same way you would treat someone stealing your briefcase full of all your account statements, credit cards, and ATM cards: in other words, you must contact each credit card company and tell them your information has been compromised. You should visit your bank so they can close your old accounts and open new ones with the transferred balances, and you can sign the signature cards right away.

5. Notify the credit agencies so that new new accounts may be made in your name without getting approval from you first. The three credit agencies are:
Equifax 800 525 6285
TransUnion 800 680 7289
Experion 888 397 3742

It takes about 2 minutes to put a watch on your social security number, and if you call one agency, they'll notify the others for you.

6. Make a list of all the companies that directly access either your bank accounts (direct deposit, auto-paid accounts) or your credit cards -- you'll have to notify all of them of the new account numbers.

7. Last but not least, make sure you have enough cash on hand to last you until your new ATM and credit cards can be used, usually 2-5 days.

Also: Save your receipts and other information (warranty cards, owners manuals) for stuff that idiots might like to steal. It will make your insurance claim easier, and having the serial numbers available slightly increases the chances of you recovering your stolen property. (I wish!)

And do I even need to say this, now? Yes, I do: Back up everything periodically, more frequently if you're accumulating a lot of data -- like digital photos. Or store everything online if you can, because then it won't matter where your hardware is (or isn't).

I know it's a pain but just do it, OK? You don't want to be left, like me, without address books and photos and nevermind my iTunes library. At least I still have my iPod!


Tracey said...


OMG! I'm so sorry you lost so much. Your list is great and I'm going to print it out and DO it. I have watched that show in the past where they purposely break in to show how vulnerable the owners are and then show them how to secure their things. I already have all our files locked up, but the computers are always vulnerable because we're certainly not going to put them under lock and key every time we leave the house. I was already going to back up our fairly large family photo album and now I'm going to do it immediately. I hope they find the creeps that did this and all your stuff, but if they don't, I hope your insurance comes through properly and you can get running smoothly again.



Sheik Yerbootie said...

I taught home safety for years while I was still active in the fire department and I second everything you said.

And I would just like to point out that going into the house by yourself is NOT a good thing to do.

As in call 911 first and let the police do their jobs.

Glad you and the kids are ok.

On the other hand, you get new computers!!


Ross Ruediger said...

Joan -

I read this a few days ago and have meaning to come back and respond.

Mortifying. As someone who went through the very same experience a couple years ago, my thoughts are with you.

Perhaps it's been said ad nauseum, but it bears repeating: It's not the loss of property as much as the feelings of violation and helplessness.

Given the entries you've posted since this happened, it seems you're coping well. Me? I didn't even wanna leave the house for a month and for weeks on end every little sound I heard outside was the perpetrators returning for more.