Privilege Blog

The Impact Of Theft On Trust, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:45am


Yesterday someone stole my wallet.

I am not sure when or where it happened, exactly. My company had an offsite after-work event, and I noticed the loss after I had parked in a garage near the venue. Annoyed, I first assumed I’d left it behind in my office. I walked to the event, borrowed $10 to pay the parking fee, watched people play in a pool tournament, ate sliders, drank wine, and prepared to end my night inconvenienced.

Then I decided I had to return to the office, just to check. As I waited for the 7pm parking rules to pass – so I could leave my car on the street and scoot into the building – my phone rang. American Express, notifying me of questionable charges at two gas stations.

And so it began.

I took care of all the stuff, the credit alert, canceling cards, and so on. That took all of an hour or two. But I feel disturbed still.

People who have experienced real crime report a far more intense version of my reaction. By real crime, I mean violence, of person or house. I lost a blue wallet from Barneys and something like $100. That’s it so far and I hope will be the end of the matter. Thank you credit bureaus, card companies, bank chat support.

But at the emotional level theft is about the loss of trust. Trust, of all kinds, allows us to build an imagined world that extends us in time, space, or identity. When trust is broken, it’s not the event itself that hurts most. It’s the rupture of all previous assumptions about rules of the system. Whether that system be sidewalks, marriages, or fundamental personal safety.

I trusted the people of San Francisco, those humans who bustle down my little rectangle of city blocks, eat tacos, and take the occasional bus. Trust allowed me to navigate in a bubble. An unzipped purse wouldn’t matter in my bubble. Pop.

It’s not a big deal. I was careless because I’m a Pollyanna. My bubble involved a refusal to live with a sense of threat, and that’s dumb, in a city.

But other people suffer from much more serious breakages of trust. They aren’t living in bubbles, they are just trying to make their way. I find myself thinking about those of you who have endured infidelity, violence, betrayal, and this makes me feel all the more privileged, oddly. I also find myself hoping that the person or people who have my money, and bought some goods at gas stations, were nice. Or deprived, and maybe now they feel a little abundance.

Pollyanna die hard, I suppose.

One last thing. This morning I got an email, to my blog address. Someone, identified only as ShyB, found my driver’s license and some other cards, and is mailing them to the address they found on my license. I am torn between an impulse towards gratitude, and worry.  I’m going to go with gratitude.

Thanks, ShyB. As my mother says, A Simple Thank You Will Suffice. But let’s look out for those unable to return to a place of gratitude after harm. The capacity to thank, to come out believing that things will probably be OK, is in and of itself a privilege.

Have a wonderful weekend.

61 Responses

  1. Recently, a very dear friend of mine was murdered by another friend of ours. Her husband is in total shock and agony, of course… And I feel a kind of numb shock that defies reason. I’ve been wondering lately if I’ll ever be able to return to a place where I trust in the universe again. I don’t know, really. 2013 has been a hard year, and my sense of trust has taken a beating at every turn.


    1. Oh Dallas, this just happened to a friend of mine as well – if you are in NC, I suspect it’s the same tragic incident. I’m truly sorry, how awful.

  2. Sorry about the theft and the loss of trust. The two do go hand-in-hand. From my experience, it takes a long time to rebuild that overall sense of trust – no matter the “theft.” But, it will happen. One day you’ll just realize that Pollyanna has returned and that is a very good thing. We need many more openly trusting and grateful people in the universe.

  3. Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Not because of any financial repercussions or all of the pain-in-the-neck getting paperwork handled. But because of precisely what you speak to, that loss of trust. I think many of us wander about in our Pollyanna cloud, believing in the this sort of thing won’t happen. And when it does you just feel, I don’t know, I remember feeling surly. (In my case it was hacking of a PC.) Perturbed with my tiny part of the universe.
    I’m so glad that ShyB is sending along the things she/he recovered. I’m sending along a hug.

  4. I’m so sorry that happened to you! And I totally agree about those who have suffered worse misfortune. My home was once burgled but in a busy city, it was low priority for the police and my things – a few small items – were never found.

  5. I had a similar experience recently in the parking lot of our little grocery store in our little New England town. When I went into the local liquor store to make a call, I was told that I should expect more of the same as the economy is a mess and that didn’t help improve my anxious mood at all. The cards were returned eventually but the police told me to replace all my cards and house locks, which I did immediately. I had also just gone to the bank to cash a large check for my Princeton son, so I suspect the person followed me from the bank, which made it even creepier.

  6. I’ve been in SF for the past three days. I’ve had strangers chat with me since I arrived. A good friend that lives in Berkeley was with me Thursday evening when my wallet fell out of my bag. A young man came up behind me in minutes and returned it. How wonderful. I live in Northern California and I am always in culture shock when I stay in the city; but when you think of how much time you spend there in such a concentrated mass of humanity I am continually surprised there isn’t more crime. I’ve seen amazing displays of concern for others in this city over the years. It is for the most part a jewel unlike any other. I grew up on Indian reservations and have witnessed and experienced my full share of violence. I think every once and awhile we need to experience small losses of trust (not devastating ones) to remind us to be grateful of the bubble we live in most of the time. I am so grateful to live Northern California every day. Have a wonderful rest of the weekend!

  7. Oh dear one, ughhhh, this is soooo painful to read. I am so sorry. I do see yet another bit of evidence why you call yourself Sturdy, though. You have a very sturdy belief system and attitude.

    I am curious. When you get up from your desk at work to go down the hall or into a meeting, is your bag/wallet left behind, unattended?

  8. It’s true that many suffer far greater loss than that of a wallet. But when it happens, for a while, its hard to keep things in perspective. I’ve experienced the theft of a purse out of a church van while taking a group of kids to a park. I felt angry and violated. But it was fixable. It is fixable. And I try to keep things in perspective-but it does mess with your trust bubble.

  9. I am sorry. I am new to your blog having posted one comment about India last week. I also read your earlier post on the blue wallet now lost to your world. When an object goes like that one realises it is just a thing but one is still left diminished. And feeling grateful that it wasn’t worse.When it happens to one’s children, the reaction is stronger as in my daughter has had her wallet, passport, cards, phone all taken like you out of an open bag, not once but twice at university. When I berate her, as I do, I do it out of fear that she is too trusting, too open and will not learn the art of distrust.I also make a mental note that next time, there will be no more Nathan Baume wallets. And then I catch myself. I am blaming her. I am thinking that there will be a next time. I am thinking that she must learn. I am wrong. She is safe -the object is gone. Money allowing, it can be replaced. Who cares about anything else? It could be so much worse. I am perhaps wrong to think this way as well but less wrong. But the news this week has not been good. So take heart.

  10. I’m so sorry to read this. I’ve had my identity stolen (a huge pain to get sorted out) and I’ve had two wallets stolen – one on the metro in Madrid and one that I am fully to blame for, as I left it at the post office in a state of distraction and by the time I retraced my steps it was gone. Even if there are worse scenarios and as you said “more serious breakages of trust”, it is a terrible feeling of violation.

  11. I was 16 and in Paris for an Art History class. (I was living/studying in the UK at the time). My girlfriends and I were all on the Metro. It was a chilly March day and I had on an oversized cashmere coat. Passport in one pocket and wallet with American, French and British currency in the other. At least they were all there when I boarded the metro… It was a scary feeling to be in a large, unfamiliar foreign city without ID. I wondered how someone could to that to a mere child. Somehow, even back then, I was able to see the sunny side of the situation. My friend Emma and I broke away from the group and got to tour Paris on our own as we searched for the police station and the American Embassy! There were no cell phones back then… Had there been I am sure that would have not been stolen. It would have been in my hand or attached to my ear! :)

  12. Horrid feelings of being violated. I am sorry. I had a radio removed from my car in SF many years ago and I remember how it felt. Much better than when my daughter was in Milan on public transportation and someone used a knife to slash the bag and get into the contents. She and I are both fine and a little wiser.

  13. Lisa,
    It’s a pity but there will always be thievery – I suppose. I had a similar incident happen to me and it left me feeling so violated but life goes on and we know there are far worse incidents.
    I am happy to hear that you are picking up the pieces and moving forward.

  14. Poor you, what a pest!

    I was staggered last year when my card was blocked because someone was trying to use it to buy diamond jewellery in the US. Needless to say, I was in England, trying to pay for my haircut. I didn’t imagine for a moment that someone would be trying to hack my card and I was (eventually) very grateful for the bank stopping them from suceeding. It was very unhelpful when I couldn’t pay for my haircut though.

  15. Being able to live without a sense of threat is a tremendous blessing, city environment or no. That sense of threat is a meth-addled hitchhiker you definitely don’t want to pick up, a corrosive passenger with tenacious hooks who’s extremely hard to shake. The world needs its Pollyannas more than ever; I’m glad you’re one of them, and I salute you! And you CAN trust the vast majority of people–if not to actively help you, at least not to harm you. But I suppose it would not go amiss to invite Pollyanna’s friend Prudence along for the ride. She’ll remind you to keep your eyes peeled and your bag zipped. Very very sorry you had to experience this horrid, icky slime of personal violation (I, too, have been a victim of similar).

  16. Lisa, I’m so sorry you had to go through this. It’s beautiful that your resilience has you in gratitude, already.

  17. The “new normal” is with us every single day now. Gone are the simple, care-free days & nights. Remember when we used to put our bags in the grocery cart and wander afield to get cookies? Remember when we felt safe at baseball games and marathons and planes? I’ve had my accounts hacked but never a stolen wallet, my kids have had that happen and it just stinks because it takes so long to fix everything. We’ve had a rash of strange car thefts, not the cars, but when women are getting fuel, their bags left in the cars, these villains open the passenger side door and make off with the bags. Now, every fuel station has “security” on wheels guarding us. I was at the post office, as I often am, a few days ago. There were 2 Middle Eastern men at the counter next to me asking to rent a box. The clerk told them they needed 2 forms of photo ID valid in the USA. Neither of them had this. For once I was grateful for the over precaution. I know you weren’t dealing with terrorists as we normally think of them, however, the people who steal from us terrorize us, don’t they? Happy Mom’s Day, Lisa.

  18. When a trust bubble is burst it’s always shocking. Sorry you had to have those feelings. Wonder if they do things like fingerprint a DL? Years ago someone broke into our house between the time I left after coming home for lunch and returning home again. Took me a long time to get over that creepy feeling. I think it’s okay for Pollyanna to be a little more wary. :)

  19. My car was broken into and while nothing was stolen in the end (they gave up trying to get my radio or were interrupted), I had that sick feeling in my stomach. Obviously my car has been safe for a great majority of the time, but that one time was enough for me to be vigilant and much less trusting. Then my bike was stolen out of my apt.’s garage. There are bad people who will steal, but there are also kind people in the world who find and return. Be vigilant about the former and be the latter.

  20. Another reminder of how very thin the ‘walls’ are between trust and violation, between civilized and amoral behavior. It is hard for those raised with trust and civilization to truly comprehend violation and amorality. Your observation that trust and civilization are a privilege is very discerning, Lisa. And the timing of this meditation, close on the heels of the release of those three women in Cleveland, ‘robbed’ both physically and psychologically for 10 years, is telling. The only way to survive and prevail is to continue to look for the good. “ShyB” and your own spirit prevail over Thief. Long live Pollyannas. :)

  21. I’m so sorry. You might remember that Paul recently had his wallet stolen as well. Luckily — and amazingly! — the police retrieved it within a few hours, but it did leave us shaken. And years ago, I had my purse taken from my workplace during the day. Like you, I balance my temporarily blasted trust against the reality that the is manageable and I’m generally fortunate in being able to keep myself relatively protected against theft, etc. And I have never had to know enough want (whether desperation or envy or greed) to steal, myself. I hope you find some restorative calm this weekend — take care!

    1. What happened to you and Paul was way worse – a person in your house, tricking you, horrible.

  22. Darn it Lisa…
    I am sorry that you had to go through this experience. Do you know when it might have happened? If you were wearing your cross baody bag it’s unlikely that someone could grab it from your bag. It happened and you are in one piece so that’s the main thing right?

    We had our credit card comprimized when we were in SF years ago and thankfully the company was on it like a shot and we were oblivious until we had to prove who we were with picture ID when using it. Now we have 2 credit cards just n case.

    It’s that seedy underbelly of crime that exists whether we like to acknowledge it or not. I have toughenend up and am much more careful and in a way it’s sad because Pollyanna life is so much more fun.

    I wonder who ShyB is…part of me says maybe that’s the person who took your wallet…at least you will be getting those cards back and won’t have the hassle of going back to the MV branch and getting new ones.

    It’s all up to Karma now.

  23. Thank you ShyB from me, too.

    The situation is most disturbing to me when one suspects the their is “one of us”, such as a work colleague or (in one of my experiences) someone who came to my house as a party guest. That thefts makes me indignant and deeply sad. But the (usually desperate) person who reaches into an unzipped bag, while I dislike the act intensely, I regard as part of city life.

    1. Agree with you Duchesse. It makes one suspicious of everyone around for a while. I’m so sorry that this happened to you, Lisa, and glad some items are being returned.

    2. I am not angry if it was someone in the city. If it was someone in my office, I am.

  24. i’m so sorry, lisa. is it possible for you to get a police report for the loss? my purse was stolen from my desk at my office in san francisco while i was in a meeting years ago (thief, there is a special place in hell for you those who violate nonprofits), and while i was able to cancel most of my cards quickly, it was pure misery to try and get out of the charges incurred on my cell phone, which was promptly used for hundreds of dollars’ worth of calls to brooklyn, even though i called my provider to suspend the account (with passwords) indefinitely. i know your phone wasn’t in your wallet, but i also know the gold standard in sorting this stuff out is a police report, and it’s ultimately the only thing that saved me and my credit.

    because it was my whole bag, i also lost car* and house keys, my beloved old stanford student ID, a ring an ex had given me that i still wore with happiness, and my certs. for some reason the thought of someone enjoying the fresh breath that should have been mine was one of the things that made me angriest of all. but that is the key word, things. we like but don’t need our things, and you are you, brave and whole, without them.

    *a very recognizable new VW key, and mine was the only VW in the lot; i feared for some time that someone would steal my car as well.

  25. I’m sick for all those who have had their trust in humanity broken in some way. I am so very sorry.

  26. Lisa, I’m sorry this happened to you, but glad that you are sturdy. We can all learn from you.

    1. Or maybe we can just learn that hard-wiring can’t be denied:). Someone not built for optimism might be taking this quite differently, no matter how hard they tried. But thank you Susan.

  27. We have a growing epidemic of pick-pockets here in Helsinki – especially during the tourist season, in the summer ( same in Stockholm ).
    They are not locals, mostly from other countries e.g. from Romania.
    The crimes are organized, as are the Romanian beggars, who sit on street corners with a jug in front of them for for coins.
    Finland´s government even once offered a free flight for them back to Romania, but back they arrived.
    There are also some, standing beside their car and winking desperately for cars to stop, so they could grab something from an innocent driver.
    Like I wrote, the amount is increasing. Poor tourists might thing that these are probably Finns, which certainly is not true.
    Be aware of your purse, if you happen to come to Helsinki.
    Then there are experts, who manage to read your bankcard´s pin number, and soon afterwards create a hazard and steal it from you and empty all your deposited money.
    Life is desperate for people like those.
    I won´t buy anything made in Romania.

    So far, I´ve only lost a pendant ( with jewels in white gold ). Don´t know, if it actually was stolen, but it is lost.
    Yes, I should have made a report to the insurance company, maybe I still will..
    Sorry about the loss of your wallet.

  28. Dear Lisa,
    We are of the era where we grew up and trusted, believed, and gave people the benefit of the doubt.

    It is truly a different world out there now, and we all need to be more cautious, listen to our inner voice, protect ourselves against harm.

    I am so sorry to hear this happened to you. I have had my bank account hacked and that was a real shock!

    Art by Karena

  29. Sorry to hear of the loss of your purse/wallet,so unnerving + loss of trust.
    I was mugged a few years back in London,threatened with a knife,had to hand over all the jewellery I wore + cash…I staggered back to the car and burst into tears with shock.
    All our cities/towns have risks from pick-pockets,beggars mostly migrants from poverty struck countries…..of course we are known as a country that welcomes all for our benefit culture.

    Happy Mother’s Day Lisa,

  30. I am so sorry to hear this. I was traumatized from simply thinking my purse was stolen for about twenty horrible minutes until I found it, so I can only imagine the distress of it actually being stolen. I am glad you are spared the hassle, at least, of obtaining a new driver’s license. I admire your gracious outlook on this event; as a fellow Pollyanna, I’m glad to hear it hasn’t soured you completely.

  31. Yes, it could have been worse, like lots of situations – but it’s still a betrayal , which inevitably results in a loss of trust. I was burglarized when I was in my 20’s, and besides it replaced immediately as it left me feeling so incredibly violated.
    I hope you have a lovely Mother’s Day.

  32. San Francisco is the only place I’ve ever been were I saw someone robbed in broad daylight on a crowded city street in front of a busy hotel. No one, in any capacity, tried to help the victim. It colored my perception of that city forever.

    Sometimes routine allows us to get comfortable and complacent in our environment. It takes the occasional lesson to remind us that world is full of unpleasant realities, and that none of us is immune to them. I’m grateful the lesson was a gentle one, and hope you will continue safely from here.

    1. KBG – I see you have DC in your name — if you haven’t seen anybody robbed/ or been robbed yourself in DC you haven’t lived there very long. Not long ago I was riding the train home and a band of boys snatched a gals’ Kindle right out of her hands.

      She was spunky and ran right after them! They displayed their true cunning by getting on the elevator off the platform, she and another rider stepped right on after them.

      Petty crime is so predictable, it hardly knicks my trust center. My coffee change disappeared off my desk, in a building where one goes through a metal detector to enter. So much for trust.

      Previous posters have pointed out a huge difference — if it’s just stuff you can be grateful that what’s really precious – life – was not threatened.

  33. Oh bother!

    Twitter Mom, I had someone steal my debit card (which I had always used as my #1 account when online and person-shopping) # back in January. They tried to buy a $900 unlocked iPhone online. It cleared out my checking account and made me get overage fees added to my $. Took about 6 weeks to have $35 paid back to me. Unreal. It broke my trust with the bank I use, and bank cards in general. Now I use my AmEx for everything and just pay the balance each week. Still, I can understand what you are going through, somewhat. A jarring experience.


  34. That is a terrible feeling. I remember when I dropped my iPhone and went back for it and “found my phone” traveling. I was so upset at whatsihis face. But we did the lost phone function and the finder got in touch and would not even accept reward upon return. I had the best feeling about mankind for days!

    The whole online buying thing makes faking a person so easy! I remember in the late nineties my sister’s purse was snatched while riding an elevator.
    A bit later credit card company called her husband (who was in the loop already) and said someone at Barney’s was trying to spend a lot. He told them person was imposter and she was arrested. I wish more stories wrapped up neatly like that.

    I appreciate you keeping it all in perspective though and trying to make your readers do the same.

  35. My house was robbed about six years ago and for the longest time, every time i entered the house, i’d hold my breath, look around to make sure that everything was there and then release my breath. All of my jewellry and silver was stolen and it’s only very recently, that I’ve recovered enough within myself to begin replacing it.

    The very worst of it (for me) was having my laptop stolen along with everything else. I’d just moved back to the states, and all of my pictures, etc from living abroad were on it.

    Unfortunately, I was living in a “transitional” neighbourhood and knew that one of my neighbours had robbed my house (and a number of others). When he was caught, i learned that he lived around the corner.

    1. Oh gosh. That’s all kinds of terrible. Your house, your family goods, your creative goods in your laptop, and a neighbor to boot. I hope that life has been safer since.

  36. “identified only as ShyB”

    Hardly. ShyB’s “ID fingerprints” lay there plain as day in his/her whateveryoucallit intenet e-thing address/location codes. But you’ve surely deconstructed yourself out the door of this cycle by now on a Monday morning.

    The thing that nags me is wondering whether this act was random, or personal. On the personal side, you [along with other wildly popular global bloggers such as Muffy] are easy targets for the have-not Angry Resentfuls. You’re both very public about where you are, what you do, what you look like, what good fortune greeted you at birth up to and including the present day, as in here I am in my Prada cardigan and Italian oxfords.

    From what I’ve observed over time, one doesn’t acquire layers of essential hide without an effrontery of some sort. There’s no need to step out of your bubble of belief, I like to think the bubble just got bigger, that’s all.

    Concerned For You ;-)

  37. Very sorry to hear about this. Someone put a skimmer on the ATM at my bank – withdrew over $17K from my bank accounts in 6 weeks all over Washington state. I’ve cancelled my ATM since (several years ago). Your story is a sober reminder to streamline the wallet – or at least carry a streamlined one. Unfortunately my wallet has so much in it….

  38. I am so sorry this happened to you but I know how you feel. Last Fall I got a call from my bank about a suspicious purchase. Someone had purchased a ticket for almost a thousand dollars on my credit card in Jackarta. Yes, I was in North Carolina. The cards and all that is replaceable but it is the broken trust and the feeling that no matter how careful you are, someone is out there waiting for the right moment to pounce on hard working people.

  39. Ugh. I’m very sorry to hear this Lisa. It is not a good feeling, losing trust, but it is probably safer to be wary.

    We’ve had to button up at home, locking doors whenever we go out, because of an increase in day burglaries in our area. Three weeks ago there was an armed robbery on our street. One of the owners, a woman, came home from running errands and surprised the perpetrators. They threatened her but she managed to escape. The suspects had obviously scoped the house. The family dogs were given cookies to quiet them. Very creepy.

  40. Ugh. Some years ago I came home from a concert I was working and I must have left our front door unlocked. We were going on vacation that weekend and my father had a large amount of cash in his wallet. The next morning he couldn’t find it and we soon put two and two together. The feeling that someone has been through your things (or IN your house!) is unshakeable. Good luck to you!

  41. A rotten feeling. This November I was doing makeup and costumes for The Nutcracker and a ballerina stole my LV bag. We found the contents dumped out–untouched–in the theatre parking lot, but the bag has not been recovered. I was especially distraught because I was helping the ballerinas look beautiful and professional for their performance, and this was one dancer’s response.

  42. Ugh. It is one of the most violating things on the planet. I’ve been there, more than once. Condolences for all the hassle and feelings of being let down by humanity.

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