Sunday, 1 December 2013

Handbag Theft.


            Today’s blog subject is rather annoying. Yesterday was supposed to be a fun day out for my girlfriend’s son who is visiting and his two cousins. We were going to look around the Science museum but got diverted looking around the Natural History Museum. My lady ruled that the kids needed to eat something before we moved down the road to the Science Museum. We ended up at a place called “Billy’s Steak and Grill” by the station. The food was good, although as you might expect in South Ken it was rather overpriced.
            During the meal I felt someone touch me. Ever the suspicious one I looked over my shoulder and just see the common sight of some jerk so engrossed in his phone call he is apparently oblivious to the rest of the world. Dealing with the food and three kids meant I wasn’t even aware when this guy left. When we get up to pay my girlfriend cannot find her bag.
            The night I first met my lady I was amazed at how she would leave her bag over the back of the barstool when she went off to the toilets. Being with me has caused her to be a little more security conscious and she has improved a lot in that respect. She still regards me a little over the top and that very morning had joked with the kids about my being paranoid about people losing things. Her bag had been across the back of the chair and she had even moved it to a position between us for added security. The bag was never unattended and the only one of us that left the table had been myself for a brief visit to the toilets. Still the dirtbag managed to get the bag. Perhaps he cut the strap or made his move while I was away. The kids later told me that when he was using his phone he had had his other hand behind his back and reaching down, an unusual position for someone seated. When he had left he had picked something up off the floor and had it under his jacket. Being kids they had not registered the significance of these behaviours until afterwards.
            Trying to cancel her bank cards proved problematic, the Barclays call centre trying to insist there was no customer of her name. My girlfriend is upset, agitated, latin and english is not her first language so call centre personnel that do not have a decent grasp of english and hang up on customers are not a help! Her phone had lots of important information on it, and because the screen was cracked the fancy gesture password system had had to be disabled. She also had some important documents in her bag.
            The restaurant staff made the not particularly inspiring comment that “this happens here” and claimed the nearest Police Station was all the way over at Fulham Broadway. Rather than exploring the Science Museum the kids got to sit in a Police Station for an hour. We at least got a crime incident number which can be used to dispute any unauthorised withdrawals. The Police also gave us an alternate number for Barclays which proved a little more sympathetic and helpful.
            All in all a shitty time that is going to have repercussions. My girlfriend cannot access the money she was going to use for the emergency dental treatment she needs this week, but I can help her with that. She is worried that her phone can be used to access her son’s electronic airline ticket and other worries, such as stolen house keys.

            So I am now asking myself, what can be done to avoid this?

            One thing that occurs to me is not to have your eggs all in one basket. I carry my credit cards in a different place to my cash or the debit cards I usually use.
            Make sure the pockets you carry valuable items in are deep and tight. Too often do I see wallets peeking out of the top of pockets, prime for a bump and lift. Carry items in pockets that have zips or button down flaps, and keep them closed!
            Don’t carry your keys with anything that has your address. That includes your phone, which can be hacked and unlocked.
            Don’t carry important documents with you unless you have to. If a document is that important have a photocopy or scan at home as a back-up.
            Carry the phone numbers and account numbers you need to cancel your cards. These should be the direct hotline numbers that some banks provide rather than general help desks. Program these into your phone but also carry written copies elsewhere on your person. Also make a note of the IMEI number of your phone with the written copy of these numbers.

            Most of the advice I have come across about keeping your handbag safe is stuff like “don’t leave it unattended”, which is not much use in this case. The Policewoman gave the impression that bags over the back of chairs were often vulnerable. The most workable solution I can see is to keep your bag in your lap, but most bags are too bulky for this to be convenient. Many years ago I knew a girl who used a bumbag as a handbag, usually just hanging it over her shoulder like a conventional bag. It occurs to me that the fastex buckle would allow the strap to be passed around a post or similar feature making surreptitious removal a little less likely. More importantly, a bag of such size could be kept in the lap while in public places and is less likely to be placed out of sight.

            I am going to suggest to my girlfriend and all other handbag using readers to have a good look at what they carry in their bags, have a think about what your really need and endeavour to go smaller. A smaller bag is easier to protect. Keep your bag in your lap when seated. If you must put it down on the floor or over a chair back secure it somehow. If it has a conventional strap tie it around a table leg or such with a knot such as a clove or slippery hitch. Some bags have snap-links or clips that let you detach and reattach the strap so it can be passed through and aperture. A screw-gate  or combination lock that takes a couple of seconds to open may be prudent. Look into ways to slash-proof straps too. Bike chains and steel cables may be incorporated into the strap, possibly even as a decorative feature. A few years ago wallets attached to their owner were in vogue. You chain up a bike to prevent theft, why not something as valuable as a handbag and its contents?

            Can you carry some items elsewhere? I realise female clothing is often short on pockets so try to work around this. A safety pin and a snaplink can be used to pin your keys to a jacket lining, for example.
            Let us stop making things easy for the dirtbags.