While on my walk this morning I noticed the neighborhood watch sign. You know the one I am talking about, right? The elusive man in the trench coat and top hat covering his face in a Covid inspired way looking like a burglar. It got me thinking….is this guy a realistic burglar? I mean, we’re in San Diego, it’s hot, isn’t it just too warm for this guy to be prowling around our neighborhood in a full-on trench coat and hat? How inconspicuous is that? What would you do if you saw a man in a long trench coat and hat in broad daylight in eighty- degree heat creeping around your neighbor’s window? You’d probably take a pic and post it on the Nextdoor Neighbor website first…but then, you’d probably report it to police right? Wouldn’t you also wonder—why is he so overdressed & isn’t he hot? Would you feel bad for the burglar that his work uniform requires him to be so uncomfortable? I think I’d feel the same way about him as I do college football mascots in Florida during the first games of the season in the late August sun. It’s what they have to wear to get the job done, but wowsas, those are some shitty working conditions. Have you ever tried to do anything active in a trench coat and hat? Those coats are double breasted, the material is thick & not built for breathable movement. What about that hat? It’s sure to fall off if he jumps into a side window of a house. I just don’t think this is what burglars wear anymore. Why do we still associate a burglar with a trench coat and a hat? Why did we ever? And why are burglars in pictures always men? Aren’t there very capable lady burglars out there in the world these days? I think it’s time for the neighborhood watch sign to be updated to look like a modern day burglar. My first act would be making that picture a little more gender neutral, so it matches all of our public restrooms. I do think a hat is still necessary but maybe one that fits the head in an active situation like a ballcap or a light weight beanie. The updated burglar uniform in San Diego would probably be board shorts, a tshirt, a bun (man or lady) if no hat and comfortable shoes for a quick get a way. I don’t think flop flops would be very safe for the burglar & likely cause planter’s fasciitis. Do you think I can convince someone to sketch this out for me? If so, then I can go around the neighborhood and put it over the old rusty neighborhood watch signs. All this talk of burglars reminds me of my current crime situation.
My credit card was stolen from my mail on December 3oth. This is still an ongoing investigation. I am technically not aloud to talk about it but for the four people that read my blog, shhhhhhhhhh mum’s the word.
At 4:45 am on New Year’s Day 2020, my phone was buzzing off the hook with text messages from CitiBank. They were alerting me that someone had charged several three thousand-dollar charges to my account in a short period time at a local casino. I called the CitiBank fraud department. She said that it was card ending in four digits I had not recognized.
I told her: “that’s not my card. My card ends in a different 4 digits”
She said: “This is your card. We sent you a new card on December 20th”
I said: “Why did you send me a new card, I did not ask for one?.”
She said: “we changed our security on the cards to a new process so we auto sent all clients a new card.”
I said: “I have been out of town for three weeks and my mail was held til December 28th. I never received this card.”
I then went to look at my emails where I subscribe to the USPS Informed Delivery Service. It sends me a daily email with a picture of the mail that arrived at the sorting facility that day for my mailbox. This way I can see it before it is delivered. I only turn this service on when I go out of town, and thank goodness I did. The email that arrived on December 30th showed that an envelope from Citibank arrived to the sorting facility on December 30th but never reached my house. I then looked at the footage on my RING doorbell app. I was feeling like a real Nancy Drew at this point. From the time the mailperson dropped my mail to the time I got the mail no one had infiltrated my mailbox so this can’t be a case of someone stealing my mail from my house. The theft had to have happened at the actual sorting facility. I made a report with the fraud department at CitiBank. While I was on the phone with CitiBank fraud,
the agent said: “Wait, this is happening again, right now.”
I said: “turn the card off, deactivate it.”
She said: “I did but it takes a couple minutes”
Good Lord….this is crazy. We both can see the criminal in action in real time and CitiBank couldn’t do anything to stop it. I hung up with CitiBank fraud and called the casino security department.
I said: “Listen, I need to speak to a supervisor quickly, there is a criminal in your building right now, charging my card, and you need to stop he or she”
Security person: “hold on, let me get a supervisor”.
I twiddled my thumbs and waited while I got another fraud alert on my phone from CitiBank. Mind you, this was now 5:30 am ON NEW YEARS DAY! So much for sleeping in.
The casino security supervisor picked up the phone. I gave him the info. He told me I needed to file a police report with the Indian reservation police department. Did you know that the Indian reservations have their own police departments? I did not. I called the Indian reservation police department and made a report. He told me I needed to call the police department where I live and file a report as well since the original theft started either at my house or with my mail sorting facility. I called my local police department and made a report. Again, this is New Year’s Day, and I’ve been on the phone with at least five people now all before 7:00 am. I took the names, times and dispatch number of each person I spoke too in case I needed it at a later date. Thank goodness I did, because I needed those names for the investigator to reference. I filed a report online on the Postal Inspector website. A week later I got a bunch of paperwork in the mail that I needed to complete for the USPS postal inspector investigator. I sent it in. In the meantime, I looked at Nextdoor neighbor website and a bunch of my neighbors had their mail stolen too, & the thieves spent money on their credit and debit cards at the casino. Apparently three thousand pieces of mail were stolen off a truck at the local mail sorting facility. Two weeks went by and I hadn’t heard anything from anyone. I called the police dispatch who told me a detective had not been assigned. He told me to call Financial Crimes. Financial Crimes told me that I had to wait 14 business days for this to be assigned to a detective. I was frustrated. We were 21 days since the crime had been committed and no one had been assigned the case. On January 24th, 23 days later, after the crime, a federal agent with the postal service called me. His name sounded like a made- up name, like a witness protection program name, but, he was the only person willing to help me, so I took it. He was reviewing the case. A week later he called me and said he thinks they arrested the person that stole my card. He was in trouble for some other things and his co-conspirators were in LA. He was from San Bernardino. He couldn’t charge him for my crime specifically, but he would be charged for stealing a car and from there they can investigate further. He said he didn’t have a video of him stealing my card so that would make it hard for him to charge him.
I asked him: “Did the casino cooperate with showing you the video?”
He said: “I have to follow up with them”
I asked: “Have you involved the Gaming Commission??”
He said: “Not yet”
I asked: “What about the mail sorting facility? Aren’t there cameras there?”
He said: “I don’t know”
In a subsequent conversation with one of my friends in law enforcement in a different part of the state, he said that most post offices have cameras but they are likely not maintained or working. The rest of the facilities do not have cameras. Seems like this case could have been cracked pretty easy if there was just a working camera or any camera at the sorting facility.
I was super curious about what the sorting facility looked like and how easy it is to steal 3000 pieces of mail from a loading dock in broad daylight without anyone noticing. So, one morning during my workout with my trainer,
I asked him:
“Can we start our workout with a brisk walk warm up? I’d like to walk to the mail sorting facility where my stuff was stolen and walk around.”
He said: “Sure” and so we did.
His gym is across the street from the mail sorting facility. It took us 5 minutes to walk there. The gates were open. There was a big open parking lot with only one way in and out. The trucks were open in the back to the loading docks and it was hells bells easy to walk around. No one asked us any questions. We just walked through the parking lot, and right up to the trucks. There were no drivers in the trucks, no security guards manning the roll up doors, there was no security code to open the gate. There were also no visible cameras. I was so mad. It seemed so lame. That was a great workout that day because I was fired up about the injustice of my and my neighbors mail theft and how vulnerable we all were to the lack of security at our sorting facility.
The postal investigator called me back three days later. We are now 30 days past the day the crime was committed, and in my opinion, losing traction. Here’s how the call went:
Postal Investigator: “the casino tried to look at the times of the theft I gave them but couldn’t find them. I gave them a photo of the suspect. Can you get the terminal ID number for the 2 times from CitiBank fraud? This will help us get the video we need from the casino”
Me: “Yep, I am on it”
I called the CitiBank security operations to get the terminal ID numbers for the two transactions that were the largest. I gave him the amounts. He wasn’t able to give me the terminal numbers but was able to give me the Unique ID and Customer ID for both. While I was on the phone with CitiBank security operations, I asked some questions:
Me: “How was the thief able to use my card if my name was on it and he clearly was not me? ”
CitiBank Security: “It’s not an embossed card like most cards, it’s a flat card. The thief was able to scratch your name off, put a different name on it that matched their ID. “
Me: “How was he able to use my card if I never activated it?”
CitiBank Security: “The card was activated through the automated system. They verified they received the card, called into the system, had your name, phone number, birthdate and social security number.”
Me: “Wow, that is scary. Can you identify the phone number the person was calling from?”
CitiBank Security: “We can’t give that out unless you’re with law enforcement,”
At this point I felt like I was law enforcement and was considering a career switch.
Me: “Aw, come on, can you at least give me the area code that called in ?”
CitiBank Security: “909”
BOOM! This is San Bernardino. This matches the criminal they arrested.
CitiBank security: “someone in law enforcement handling your case can call and get more info.”
I called the Postal Investigator and gave him all of this new information. He couldn’t believe I was able to extract the information that I did. He also was shocked that the casino was able to help me. I kept thinking, “isn’t this your job? Why am I the one playing Columbo on this? You should be better at this than I am” But, in the interest of catching bad guys, I didn’t judge, I just helped and moved on.
At this point, it didn’t seem like the postal inspector investigator was having much luck with the casino so I called a contact I have there. She was awesome. She instantly connected with their Vice President of Security, who was amazing. He said he didn’t know anything about the case. I gave him all the file report numbers, the people I spoke too, dates, times, their dispatch numbers, etc. He looked into it and called me back 30 minutes later. It was the fastest response I had received in this whole telenovela..
He said: “the money stolen would have to have a name attached to it and a cage. I am going to have my cage vault manager look into this. I can’t work with the postal inspector agent who is working on this because he is federal. We need to have someone local look into this & follow the local channels first. We will get the surveillance on this”
I didn’t know what cage or vault or any of the local vs federal bureaucracy stuff meant but he sounded like he was on it and I was happy this was moving forward.
Two days later the casino VP of Security called me back to tell me that the thieves stole my card and either created their own card and used their ID or changed the name on my card to match their ID. This was in sync with what CitiBank had said. He was now working with the local and federal people involved and everyone was moving forward to catch this guy.
Two weeks later, this is now February 14th, 6 weeks after the initial theft, the postal investigator called me.
He said: “We did a search warrant for the car and recovered a piece of paper with your name on it. The suspect wrote your phone number, date of birth and social security number on that piece of paper. It looks like he purchased your information off the dark web. The person is in custody for state warrants and will be indicted in LA first, then San Diego. LA has been working on a case against him since January 2019. The casino surveillance also revealed a lady with long hair on the camera in addition to the man, both using your card. Be sure to monitor your credit report to be sure no one opens an account using your personal info”
Me: “WOW, that is a lot of information and scary. How much do you think they charge on the dark web for this information?”
Postal Investigator: “It depends, sometimes $100 sometimes more or less. It depends on where he went.”
Fascinating. I didn’t know anything about the dark web. Maybe I am naïve, Maybe everyone knows about the dark web except for me. Now my name and personal information is available for men and long haired ladies to steal my shit. It’s crazy. I ran my credit report that day and no new accounts had been opened, thankfully.
After that, Covid struck, my business collapsed, I’ve been trying not to gain the Covid 15, my Godmother passed away, my dog needs 18 walks a day and endless play time, my yard and pool flooded, I am busy negotiating non stop cancellations and trying to revamp my coaching website, needless to say, I haven’t had time or been able to connect with the postal investigator since. After writing this long post, it inspired me to give him a call this week. More than two months have passed since I last caught up on what has happened to the long hair lady burglar and the man who had my info in his car from the dark web. It also is a good reminder that when talking to law enforcement and banks, write down the name, badge number or dispatch number, time and date and light details about what you discussed. It will help you down the road either solve a crime or write a story. Most of all, the biggest lesson in all of this is neither one of these crooks wore a trench coat, or a hat, and one was a woman. So, now, after enduring this grueling crime story, wouldn’t you agree that we need to change this god forsaken Neighborhood Watch Sign?