Theft on campus: minor crime, major hassle

By
November 20, 2003

Mills College Weekly

Have you heard of the “office creepers?” They lurk in the
hallways of buildings, watching and waiting for someone to leave an
office, and then they strike. Their targets: your CDs, your money,
maybe even your purse or wallet. A few weeks ago, says Mills
Director of Public Safety Steven R. King, one of these office
creepers was caught – he was a parolee.

This type of thing may seem too sinister to happen in our small,
close-knit community. But the truth is, there were 43 reports of
burglary at Mills in the year 2002 alone, according to the Campus
Safety Report. Some of these incidents happened in broad daylight.
“They walked right into Sage Hall last year and had a tug-of-war
with someone over their wallet,” said Public Safety supervisor
Dennis Bernardo.

Just two weeks ago in Mills Hall, I found myself in the position
of victim. It was the middle of the day. I hid my purse well out of
sight, left the room for a short time, and when I returned, my
purse was open and my wallet was gone. I was lucky. The thief
didn’t take anything else, generously leaving me with my keys, cell
phone, and checkbook. But by the time I got back from school that
night and confirmed that my wallet had indeed been stolen, not just
left at home, damage had already been done. When I called to cancel
my credit cards, they had already been used. Fortunately, I was
able to easily confirm when the theft occurred and when my last
credit card transaction had been. It could have been much
worse.

Disturbingly, however, this incident seems to be part of a small
rash of petty theft and suspicious activity around Mills Hall. Only
a month ago, Assistant Professor of French Mary Jorgensen had her
wallet stolen from her office, which was locked. Since having the
lock changed, another thief has since been back to rifle through
her bag. The day after my wallet was stolen, she and Tonianne
Nemeth, administrative assistant to the letters division, saw a
suspicious-looking young man wandering the hallway. “He finally
opened the door of the Place for Writers, went in, and closed the
door, all while I could see him out of the corner of my eye. Of
course, security arrived just when he’d gone down the Mills Hall
stairs. He is the third one I’ve seen,” said Professor
Jorgensen.

It is unsettling to think that shifty persons might at any time
be cruising our buildings, looking for wallets to steal. Place for
Writers TA Anna Mantzaris expressed concern about students’
personal safety. She worries “just a bit about people working alone
if someone is lurking around and sneaking into the Place and
closing the door.” Graduate students sometimes use the Place for
Writers at night, or alone. “What if someone walked in when they
were taking something?” Jaime Lin-Yu, another Place TA, brought her
husband with her one day when she came in to work on campus. “I was
a little concerned. I think I would have been skittish if he wasn’t
there; the third floor was completely deserted.”

What can be done to prevent thieves from stealing your property?
Number one, says Dennis Bernardo, is to “keep an eye on it.” Don’t
leave valuables such as your wallet, purse, or keys out in the
open-keep them with you, or store them in a LOCKED drawer or
cabinet. If you’re working alone and are worried about personal
safety, lock the door. Report any suspicious individuals to
security. More tips on office security and personal safety are
available from the Public Safety Office, x5555, located in the M
Center; or from the http://www.mills.edu/PSAF/psaf.home.html.
Another great tip is to take a photocopy of everything you have in
your wallet and keep it in a safe place in case of theft, so you
know what has been taken, what needs to be replaced, and the
appropriate phone numbers to call. Don’t carry anything around that
you don’t need; only carry your social security card or other
crucial documents when absolutely necessary.

What do you do if your purse or wallet has been stolen? The
first thing I did was to call my credit card companies – that’s how
I found out that someone had been using my cards, thereby
confirming that a theft had in fact occurred.

I canceled those cards right away; my ATM/check cards, too.
Usually, credit card companies and banks have a fraud department
that will work with you to determine whether fraudulent charges
have been made, so that you aren’t responsible for paying those
charges. Then they’ll arrange to send you a new credit card or ATM
card.

If your social security card was in your wallet, you may also
want to contact the fraud departments of the three major credit
bureaus to place a security alert on your file. Order a copy of
your credit report periodically and review it for any suspicious
activity. More tips to prevent identity theft, as well as contact
information for the three credit bureaus, are available from the
Public Safety office or your local Social Security office.

The other critical step to take if you have been the victim of
theft is to notify Public Safety and file a complete report. If
your keys were stolen, you may want to contact a locksmith.

Check trashcans in the area of the theft to see if your wallet
or personal items were discarded nearby – sometimes all a burglar
wants is cash. But if your wallet is gone and your credit cards
have been used, make sure to file a report with the Oakland Police
at (510) 777-3333.

The police and Public Safety will ask for a detailed description
of your wallet or purse and its contents. Also, don’t forget to
notify the DMV if your driver’s license has been stolen so that
they can issue a duplicate. In the meantime, your passport can
serve as a photo ID. Above all, be careful and on guard-with
personal items and with your safety.


Theft on campus: minor crime, major hassle was published on November 20, 2003 in Features

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