"Stuck on stupid" probably best describes me when I left the top down and the keys in my convertible at 7 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning to go for a 20-minute daily run. Running back up the street, I thought I might be suffering from a touch of dementia when I couldn't figure out why the car wasn't where I thought I had left it. This was only a mile from my house on a quiet residential street. It turned out that I had been robbed.
The good news: My car, like 95 percent of the 6,000 stolen vehicles per year in Contra Costa County, was recovered a few days later. It was found about 20 miles away with just two wheels stolen and the clutch burned out. What a waste of time on the part of some perpetrator -- not to mention the risk of getting caught.
I'm not alone, as it turns out. Recently, a friend in the Oakland hills told me that his neighborhood had hired a private security guard to cut what had been a rash of break-ins. One couple, walking to one of the meetings to discuss the possibility, was mugged on the way. That did it. The vote to hire private security was unanimous.
In discussions with the police, I learned something that would be of interest to anyone concerned about protecting what some retirees and most of us have spent a lifetime of hard work accumulating. For openers, the incidence of theft has increased as more inmates have been beneficiaries of the highly publicized pressure to release them from crowded prisons. So someone felt confident that they could wander around my neighborhood looking for a crime of opportunity and they found one.
The lesson here is that we all tend to get complacent and think that we have some built-in sixth sense of what criminals are thinking. Why else would so many homes get burglarized when doors are left unlocked "so the dogs can run in the backyard" and expensive alarm systems are left turned off because "I'm only going to be gone for a minute." The average person experiences relatively little crime in the course of a lifetime, so the tendency is to second-guess the mind of a burglar -- or car thief. I'm like, "Who would steal a car in broad daylight at 7 a.m. on a Saturday? Don't losers sleep in?"
While we make it easy for them anyway, professional thieves are reasonably sophisticated. They tend to operate in pairs with one watching the house while the other breaks in, taking as much as possible in just a few minutes. When burglar alarms start ringing, the thief knows that it will take at least five minutes for police to arrive after the alarm goes off, so they have that much time to take what is easy to locate -- like jewelry and laptop computers. In the absence of alarms, they just ransack the house. In some cases where there might actually be a safe, thieves have been known to take a crowbar and a dolly from the garage to remove the safe and roll it out to the car.
And then there's identity theft. On several occasions over the years, we have had to have both personal and business credit cards replaced. The national statistic is that 10 percent of the adult population experiences some form of attempted, if not successful, identity theft per year. Subscriptions to companies such as Lifelock supposedly make it more difficult to successfully steal an identity but reading what people have to say about that particular service through a Google (GOOG) search leads anyone to conclude that we're really on our own when it's us against the hackers.
This is not meant to be a shopping list of Dick Tracy "crime stoppers," but rather just a warning for us all to be more vigilant than we might have been to date. It's a real hassle to get robbed, and if I'm any example, the experience can make one feel vulnerable. Who needs it? Law enforcement is overworked as it is, so we can all make their job a little easier by ramping up a little more do-it-ourselves public safety. So here's wishing you a crime-free 2014.
Steven Butler is CEO of Pension Dynamics. Contact him at email@example.com or 925-956-0505, ext. 228.