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Thursday, June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023

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Dining outdoors? Protect your valuables

Heed tips to keep ID, credit cards from thieves


The weather’s nice and tables are filling up once again on sidewalks, streeteries, and patios. All smiles and happiness. Well, almost all smiles and happiness. Let’s take a moment for a quick refresher about safety. Stuff happens, unfortunately everywhere.

Most crimes involving restaurant patrons involve theft — a handbag snatched from the back of a chair or a phone lifted from a jacket pocket.

The following tips are mostly common sense. Some are from lessons learned.

Before you go out

Consider traveling lightly.

  • Make an inventory of your bag and keep this list at home, with a copy in a file or in the Notes app on your phone.
  • If you have an iPhone, set up “Find My iPhone” and make sure you have access to your iCloud from another device.
  • Photocopy both sides of your IDs and credit/debit cards. Stash this at home, but do not keep this information on a phone file or app that is not password-protected. Anyone who gains access to your phone would then have your information in one, handy place.
  • Take only the smallest bag truly necessary and only the cash and card you will need. (This also may be a financial tip. But note that credit cards offer fraud liability protections that debit cards do not. A lost debit card is a harrowing experience, while a lost credit card is usually just an inconvenience.)

Once you’re out

  • Be aware of your surroundings. “I know we get caught up in the social part, but you have to be aware about what’s around you also,” said Philadelphia Police Officer Miguel Torres, weighing in at The Inquirer’s request. That includes who is around you. Thieves sometimes mill around tables, even talking on cellphones to appear as if they’re not up to something.
  • Keep your friends close, and your valuables closer. Don’t leave credit cards, phones, wallets or purses on top of tables, where you’re not paying attention to them, Torres said.
  • Never, ever hang a bag on the back of a chair.
  • Bags containing valuables should be kept next to you, not on the floor or ground, if possible. Thieves frequently duck down to lift wallets from bags. (The sneakiest of thieves remove wallets, take what they want, and return the wallets to their rightful place. It’s only much later, after the credit card has been used, that the victim realizes they’ve been used.)
  • Use purse hooks. Many bars install them for customers, but they are found at few outdoor restaurant tables. I’ve used a portable hook, marketed as a purse hook, to keep my backpack off the floor and against my leg. If you’re also toting a diaper bag or duffel, the floor or ground is probably fine.
  • Consider keeping your handbag on your lap, with a napkin placed over it to keep your bag clean. If the restaurant offers solid-back chairs, place the bag behind your back and lean back to secure it.
  • Is it too obvious to suggest always zipping up bags? Probably not.
  • When you take out your wallet to remove a credit card to pay, keep the wallet in your hand at all times. Return it to your pocket or wallet only after you put the card back in its place. This serves two purposes: Your wallet stays with you, and you will never again leave your credit card behind. (That’s another story.)

If you lose something

  • First, contact the establishment where you were at, Torres said. “You want to enlist as much help as possible to get your property back,” he said.
  • File a police report, and notify card companies. If your iPhone is lifted, you may need to suspend or permanently remove the ability to pay from that device with Apple Pay. Your cards will be suspended or removed from Apple Pay even if your device is offline and not connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi network. You can also call your bank to suspend or remove cards from Apple Pay.

One more thing

Not every thief works by skulking around. Consider Stacey Shapiro’s tale. She was sitting at a table when a passerby, acting intoxicated, walked up to her. Holding out her phone, the person asked Shapiro to give her friend directions to the restaurant. “Being a nice person and not thinking, I took her phone and explained to the person on the other end. Unbeknownst to me, (the “drunk passerby”) was stealing my wallet.” The thief got Shapiro’s wallet and relieved her of her credit cards and ID, she said. Not her Costco card, she noted.

“I canceled my (credit) card before she tried spending $500 at CVS,” Shapiro said. “I got the notification it was declined.”

“All because I was trying to be a nice person,” she said.