How To Get Mugged
Awesome, 10:45 and there's still one parking spot only a few buildings from mine. I do the parallel parking bit, grab my purse, lock the car, and start the quick walk to my apartment building. As I walk past our next-door building, a car stops in front of me, and the passenger steps out. Weird, he's talking to me. "OK, give me your purse."
Next thing I know I'm splayed out on my back like a dying cockroach on the curb -- except much wrigglier, and much, much louder.
The whole thing took about 30 seconds, and then he drove off with my purse, my wallet, my phone, my camera. I was suitably shaken -- feeling helpless, violated, extremely freaked out -- but the lesson for me was that this really can happen anywhere. People have asked me if I'm going to move to a different neighborhood now, and the answer is a decided no. When you start telling people you were mugged, they come back with stories of their own. A friend has been the victim twice -- once in front of his mother's house on Rodeo Drive (yes, that Rodeo Drive), and another time in the Pico-Robertson area of West Los Angeles -- a neighborhood predominantly inhabited by Orthodox Jewish families.
So, I'm not running to the suburbs anytime soon. But now that I know it's a reality, I can take some personal steps to prevent another assault, and I can share what I learned about what to do when it does happen.
Do this now: Make sure you have a photo ID in your home, off your person. Write down or memorize your driver's license number and credit card numbers. You'll need these items a few times -- to renew your license, to tell the police, to take money out of the bank without an ATM card. If you are compiling a document, adding the 24-hour numbers for your credit card and ATM card will also come in handy. Having all this info at easy access prevents scrambling.
If you buy a new mobile phone, be sure to keep your old one. You can get a new SIM card free, and start blabbing away immediately. If your phone has the capablity to sync with your computer, do it frequently. It saves a great deal of headache not to have to recompile your address book.
Keep some cash in the house. With no ATM card, you are at the mercy of bank hours to withdraw cash, and you won't have a credit card.
Soon after the mugging, someone gave me a can of pepper spray. I've put it on my keychain, but I'm admittedly of two minds about it. It's a bit of comfort to know, in a realm where I, as a diminutive woman, am a prime victim, that by carrying it with me I'm evening out the playing field just so slightly. But, its very existence can be inflammatory: cashiers have made not-so-innocent jokes about it, and my sister rightly expressed concern about having it around her small children. So, it's really a personal decision. If you do choose pepper spray though, know that you must be prepared to use it before anything happens. Walk out of your car with the can in your hand and your thumb on the trigger. The best product I've seen was a thin tube on a strap, which wrapped around your hand, securing the canister in your palm. This article, written by a professional security consultant, covers nicely the whys and why-nots of pepper spray. Read up and decide for yourself.
Avoid being on the street by yourself late at night. Carpool with friends, or have them walk you to your door. Spend the night at a friend's home after a late night. Befriend a neighbor; see if you can exchange phone numbers, so you can call each other when you need someone to walk you home. In times when walking outside alone at night is just inevitable, I've begun running from car to apartment: I figure, it cuts the time I'm outside in half, and a weirdo sprinting across the sidewalk is probably a less likely target.
During the assault: It's important to know the best way to react, although in the moment it might take you a while to recall what you know. And that best way is to give them what they want. At first, that's not what i did. I was working under the logic that most human beings are reasonable, and that it's reasonable for me to walk into my apartment with my purse in tow, as I had set out to do seconds before. But, reason had little to do with this situation. I resisted, held fast to my purse, and started screaming. Loudly. So, he pushed me onto the ground. After a few seconds, it became clear my screaming was to no avail. I remembered what you're supposed to do, and I did it: I let go of my purse, and its new owner immediately drove off. I was left with a hefty bump on my forehead and the surreal view of my familiar block, now as seen from the ground. But I was lucky -- he could have pulled out a knife, he could have pulled out a gun, he could have been far more violent. Everything in your purse is replaceable; you are not.
Afterwards: Before anything else, call the police. I was lucky in that one neighbor did actually hear my screaming, came outside after the incident, took me into his home, and led me through this process (it's not hard, but I was completely frazzled). Try to bring to mind any details, because you will forget them surprisingly quickly. They will send out officers to get the full report.
In the meantime, tell someone. Either someone at home, or a friend or family member that can be reached by phone. It's a huge comfort to call a loved one and tell your story.
Then, cancel your cards. Your credit card statement will have a phone number where you can report a lost or stolen card. Be sure to ask if any charges have been made since your card was stolen: not only in case there are charges you need to protest, but also because even failed attempts to charge may be leads in finding the criminal. Same goes for your ATM card.
Call your cellular phone provider. They will suspend your SIM card. Later on, go to your provider's brick-and-mortar store, and they can provide you with a new SIM that holds your existing phone number. Just drop this card into any phone that is 'locked' for use with your provider, or one that is unlocked, and you're ready to send and recieve calls as normal.
Contact the credit bureau. They will put a fraud alert on your file, so that creditors will alert you before any extensions of credit are made. There are 3 major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion -- and if you contact one, they will contact the other two.
And here's an exhaustive list of tips, phone numbers, and great info on preventing identity theft from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
Unfortunately, things like this aren't going away anytime soon. But, with a little knowledge, you can prevent a bad situation from getting much, much worse.