Monday, April 6, 2009

Yes, It Could Happen to You

by Donna Pendergast

I was not planning to write this article today. In fact, I never planned to write this article at all. I had a post waiting to go, sitting in the queue all ready for today, but the events of the past two days have caused me to preempt it and write this piece instead. I think that this "public service announcement" is more important than what I intended to post originally. I will tweak the other post for a future date.

Flash back 48 hours ago to Friday night when I arrived home around midnight to find an e-mail message from an old friend who lives in New York. He is a Vice President for the NFL and was in town for the
Final Four basketball game. He had an extra ticket and wondered if I was interested in attending the next day's game. Hmmmm . . . yeah, right, like I had to think about it.

Saturday comes around and it is a beautiful day. I arrive in downtown Detroit, pay an outrageous amount for parking and trot over to the Irish bar where we had decided to meet. So far, so good—no, so far, so great. I was happy. I get to see my old friend, downtown Detroit is awash in a sea of green and white, and there is excitement in the air. Such a great day for a basketball game especially when the home team is in the Final Four.

Within a few hours everything would change.

My buddy and I arrived at the
Ford Field before the start of the game. You could feel the excitement in the air. I too was excited right up to the time that I went to the restroom and realized that my wallet was gone. My credit cards, my license, my debit card, $150 cash, you name it, it's gone.

In my initial panic I think that my car keys are gone as well but then realize that they are with the parking valet, thank God for small miracles. OK, at least even if they have my home address, they don't have my keys as well. I can get home and I can get in the house. The
Southfield police also reassure me that they will keep an eye on the house just to make sure that everything looks alright.

That's where my good luck ended, but I will get to that in a minute.

Needless to say the experience put a damper on the evening. Yes, my hometown team,
Michigan State, won their game but all that I could think about was my wallet and whose hands it might be in—always the prosecutor, I guess. However, I stayed to watch the first game and was even excited by the result despite my apprehension.

Increasingly anxious, I decided to go home after the first game ended. I got home, got in, and reassured myself that someone would take the money, dump the wallet, and go on their merry way.

I was wrong.

I spent Sunday morning cancelling credit cards. While I was on the phone with one company, my credit union monitoring agency called to ask if I has just spent $900 at Walgreens in Livonia, Michigan. Of course, I had not. Remember, I can't leave the house because I have no money, no debit card, and no license to drive.

As it turns out, nearly $1200 had been charged to my debit card before they were able to shut it down. That being said, I have been told that the credit union will refund that amount. I'm on the hook for $50.00 at the most and will probably not even be charged that amount. Once again, thank God for small miracles.

Being a prosecutor for 22 years, one would think that I am the last person who would be victimized. I know how things go down, I've seen it all before. Quite frankly, for the most part, to say that that being a prosecutor has made me a more cautious person is an understatement at best. But guess what? Even I am not immune to fraud and deception as knowledgeable as I consider myself to be.

I'm pretty sure in hindsight that I know when the wallet was actually lifted. As soon as I got into the bar a guy sidled up to where my friend and I were standing at the bar claiming that he was a small percentage part-owner of the bar and wanting to make small talk. My friend and I laughed at him, but he was harmless right? Not so right. The bar was mobbed, he continued to hover and at one point he made his way to the other side of me, the right shoulder side where I carry my purse.

I had a hobo purse with no top flap (you see where this is going, I trust). At some point another guy approached (an accomplice I'm sure), coming up to the bar to say that I had beautiful eyes. My friend an I were laughing but as it turns out we were probably being silently laughed at that very second. I am completely convinced that at that moment as my attention was being distracted my wallet was being lifted from the hobo purse.

It all seems weird in hindsight, but remember this was a happy crowd and everybody was high fiving each other and talking to everybody around them. What a perfect place to commit a crime.

And guess what? Someone knew in advance that these type of venues are a fertile haven for unsuspecting victims. The local news warned about pickpockets at the Final Four just the other night. I only half paid attention because I didn't anticipate being downtown and even if I was, I'm a prosecutor, so no one would dare touch me—right? I guess not so right.

Listen people, if it can happen to me it can happen to you. This is your wake up call.

I have taken the day off today and will be running from venue to venue. First, the credit union to get money so I can go to the
Secretary of State's Office for a new license and registration. That's only the beginning—the list goes on. More frightening is the ever-present shadow of identity theft that will now loom large for a long time to come. I am taking all of the appropriate precautions but I just want to cry.

I think these guys were out-of-town professionals because one of the early debit charges was a Hertz rental car. But I'm not quite sure because the other small charges that were incurred before the big charge (which prompted my monitoring company to call) were for $25 dollars at Bed Bath and Beyond and and a small charge at a local restaurant. My credit union monitoring company did tell me that often times a few small charges are made to test the waters before they go in for the "big bang." As the monitoring company told me, I'm lucky that the "big bang" was only $900 before we got them shut down. I'm sure that the next charge would have been for substantially more.

Be aware, readers, this can happen to you too. Once again, I could just cry—in fact I'm sure I will when I get to bed.

Statements made in this post are my own and are not intended to reflect the views, opinion, or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.


TxMichelle said...

I can relate. Not three years ago while I was in the process of closing on my house someone tapped into my bank account via the internet. They starte bill pay and made a purchast of 1870.00. Thank God the bank was on the ball, because I had just cancelled my bill pay the previous month. They called me immediately.
Needless to say they refunded my money, but nothing was ever done about the theft. However, it blacked out all my accounts which set back my closing by three weeks while I waited for my documents to be sent or faxed to me from the bank. And I had to call the bank each time I needed to go grocery shopping just to have them transfer funds to the new bank account from the money that was refunded. It was a pain in the butt.
It is a horrible feeling. Knowing someone has your information. I can only be happy that I was fortunate. Some people don't get the break I did.

Anonymous said...

....Quite frankly, for the most part, to say that that being a prosecutor has made me a more cautious person is an understatement at best. But guess what? Even I am not immune to fraud and deception as knowledgeable as I consider myself to be......


Donna Pendergast said...

Dear anonymous

Thank you for your less than pleasant comment. As always all opinions are appreciated.

However, to set the record straight no one said anything about being drunk which I wasn't. In fact we were only at the bar for a very short period of time. Stupid perhaps but these pickpockets are good.

If you have any real interest in how this scam came down rather than in just spewing venom read the story in the Detroit News which talks about the professional gang of pickpockets that was in town specifically for this event.

Margaret Lucas Agius said...


I'm a paralegal in Southeast Michigan. I like carrying a messenger-style purse that can be carried across my body when I'm in crowded public places like sporting events. My new favorite is this one: I carry this hands-free bag for everyday use.

Donna Pendergast said...


Thank you for the helpful post. I will definitely check it out. Thanks again

speck said...

You may want to warn the rental car company. They should have noticed that the license and credit card didn't match the renter. Unless someone really looked like you. I think we all let our guard down sometimes. It doesn't matter who we are and what we know. I have been known now to just carry ID, one credit card and money with me to crazy events like that. Reason being that I know I can get caught up in the moment. I feel for you. Luckily you weren't harmed. Material items can all be replaced.

Anonymous said...

I'm really flabbergasted as to why you, as an attorney, feel that you are above everyone else in the sense that you should never have been targeted??? Being an attorney hardly makes one a brilliant human being, I would say quite the contrary, actually.

Mary O'Grady said...

I believe in handbags made of leather with flaps, and zippers for the wallet pocket. I keep my arm over the flap when I am in public places such as bars, and seated in a restaurant or a library I make sure the strap is wound around one ankle such that I will feel anybody messing with the handbag.
So far, knock wood, these simple precautions have kept my wallet safe in many notorious pickpocketing venues.

Donna Pendergast said...

Dear Anonymous

Like many others you misunderstood my post. I'm sure that it is my fault for my inarticulate wording and for poorly conveying what I meant to say. Understand that when I wrote the post I was beyond upset and somewhat sleep deprived. I truly did not convey the essence of what I meant to say.

I never felt that I was "above everyone else" once again I communicated poorly in the blog. And if you have linked in fron the Detroit Free Press understand that I never foresaw that link happening.

When I said "no one would dare touch me"----what I meant to say dwas If anyone tries to target me---I'll be all over it because I know how it works.

I did not convey what I was thinking well and unfortunately I wasn't all over it and will be paying the price for a long time.

No one is above being a victim.


Leah said...

Excellent post Donna. No doubt you were traumatized - anybody would have been. Please keep us updated.

Jan C said...

A lot of insurance companies are offering identity theft coverage on homeowner's and renter's policies now. Usually for a nominal price; $25-$50 per year.

I understand your feelings, Donna. I think it is easy to think we won't be victimized because of our experience and knowledge. You have shown that we are all vulnerable and need to be alert and cautious.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

Anonymous said...

Your post is timely, as I am traveling out of town for the week. I will be sure to keep my valuables as secure as I can.

I am sorry you had to go through this, and hope that you don't see further repercussions from the theft.

Soobs said...

My mother's entire purse was stolen back in the 80s, while she was at an aerobics class. The thief then went about charging and writing checks, in the SAME TOWN, for days. In fact, one store that my mother frequented, called the police because they insisted that my mother was the one who wrote the check (and the bank wouldn't honor it.) After looking at the signatures, it was obvious she didn't. The woman must have looked like my mother. It was a nightmare for my mother (as it is for anyone who's been violated in that manner) but at least that was BEFORE widespread identity theft. This woman just wanted to shop.

(I understand the excitement of last weekend (it was a great game,) but I NEVER take my purse downtown. EVER. Use your pockets.)

California Girl said...

One night we had dinner at a well-known local restaurant. We paid by credit card. The same night, our credit card number was being used to buy plane tickets in England, more than $1k in books in Spain and a few other purchases world wide. The credit card company contacted us about this and we immediately were given a new card and account number.
You do not have to have someone reach into your purse to have this crap happen.
Regardless of how your episode happened, people do not need to kick you when you are down. This can happen to anyone at any time. And realize, it can and will happen again.

Anonymous said...

I think I was pickpocketed at Jacoby's. I had just picked up my Final Four Ticket book ten minutes earlier and discovered it missing about 10 minutes after stopping in there for a few minutes. Had not been drinking.