|by Jason Steele|
Last week, I came home to find out that my house was burglarized during the day while I was at work. Oddly, very little was taken. A couple of cameras, some DVDs and a two credit cards. The seemed to be looking for cash, but didn’t find any.
It was the theft of the credit cards along with their neglect of more valuable objects, that lead me to believe that he criminals were hardly master thieves. In fact, I am rather glad that they took my credit cards. Let me explain. First, the credit cards that were laying on my desk, by definition, were the ones I don’t use on a regular basis. Most of them were acquired in order to obtain a sign up bonus. If I used the cards, they would have been with me, in my wallet.
Of course, taking my credit cards poses no financial risk to myself, as all credit card holders are protected from fraud. Better yet, their use of my credit cards make it much more likely that they will be caught. Think about it, there are very few places that you use your credit card without either giving out your address, or being caught on a surveillance camera. As it happens, the thieves used the credit card at a nearby gas station and a Wal Mart. When I called to report the cards stolen, I inquired as to their recent use. The banks were able to give me an exact time and place for their use, which I was able to supply to the police. The police later informed me that the thieves were caught on camera, increasing the chances that they will be apprehended.
There are many psychological issues with coming to grips with the fact that people entered your house and went through your belongings. One of the practical challenges of recovering from a burglary is inventorying what you have and what is missing. Since most of the credit cards that are in my house are the ones that I got for their sign up bonuses, they are actually just the personal and business cards for my wife and I, from just two banks. That made it easier to contact just two banks. If I had lost my wallet, I would have probably had to make more calls.
The biggest problem in making the calls was that I was only able to tell the banks what cards I had, not knowing the numbers of the cards that were stolen. Unfortunately, something was lost in communication as one of the cards in my wallet was inadvertently canceled. The next day, I had replacements overnighted to my house. Frankly, I was not looking forward to the task of activating all of those cards. I finally got around to it today. There was, of course, no hurry as the cards were ones I don’t use.
What I don’t like about activating cards is that banks typically take the opportunity to try to market all sorts of stuff to you. I think of this as “reverse telemarketing”. Before the “do not call” list, telemarketers called you to try to sell you stuff that you don’t want. Now, they just wait until you call them, and they don’t let you hang up until they have made their pitch. Fortunately, both banks I contacted had the good taste not telemarket to me. I can on assume that the representatives are not prompted to do so when the card being activated is a replacement card from an existing account that was sent due to the theft of the original. Kudos to Citibank and Amex for their discretion. Another good thing was that I was able to activate all cards from each bank with a single phone call, rather than re-authenticate myself over and over again.
Credit cards can be a real pain some times. Fortunately, it is experiences like this where they really shine. Because I use credit cards as my primary method of payment, I rarely carry any cash, and never have any cash at home. I don’t do this for security sake, but it turns out to be a very secure way to handle your finances. In fact, I am glad that I had some credit cards laying around in plain sight. If the burglars are ever caught, it will probably be in part because they were stupid enough to steal and use my credit cards. Finally, if there is one thing that credit card companies seem to be very good at, it is supporting their card holders when their cards are stolen. Everyone I talked to was friendly and sympathetic. They gave me information that may help catch the burglar, and sent me new cards by overnight mail. No, they were not perfect, canceling one of my cards that I told them was not stolen, but if the Denver Police were as efficient, I might even have my stuff back by now.