Robbery doesn’t have to ruin holidays

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- We were sitting on the beach talking for what felt like less than five minutes when we sat up and realized both our purses were gone. Our nonchalant conversation morphed into distress as we frantically scanned the beach for the perpetrator. I stood up and shouted, "Where are you?!" as though the thief would come running back and grovel at our feet.

It was during the later evening and we were relaxing after a large meal -- the one time during our five-day trip to Barcelona we'd let our guard down. On the metro, we hugged our purses to our chests and stood close to one another. We walked arm-in-arm on the sidewalks to ward off any suspicious-looking strangers. I even left my car keys behind in the hotel so I wouldn't lose them.

Three young men emerged shortly after the incident, handing my friend her purse back, saying they found it further down the beach. She and I instantly clicked our phone flashlights on and started perusing trash cans and the sand for a sign of my purse - coincidentally a $350 Coach - but were unable to find anything.

A few days later we realized the guys who returned my friend's purse likely were the perpetrators, returning hers to appear innocent. That didn't matter, though. What mattered was making sure we could get home.

Besides the 150 Euro the thieves would certainly spend, my purse contained at least four debit and credit cards, my passport, stateside driver's license, U.S. Armed Forces in Europe License, and other items I would not think of until weeks later - my ration card, savings punch cards and photos.

It only takes a second for someone to steal your wallet or purse. But it takes a few weeks or months to replace the contents.

Here's a run-down of how I replaced the contents of my wallet and purse:
· Passport $100
Once again, my luck preceded me. I had an additional day in Spain before my flight was leaving, and my friend had her passport and credit cards. We found the U.S. consulate, and after 30 minutes of filling out paperwork and purchasing a passport photo, I had a new, temporary passport valid for one year. I have to replace it with a permanent one, but the $100 I paid for the temporary passport counts toward a new one.
· Cell phone $25-$200
Whether you decide on an old-school Nokia brick or a touch-color screen, WiFi-capable iPhone, replacing a cell phone is a pain. Aside from the pinch on your pocketbook, you likely will need a new phone number.
· Stateside driver's license $10 (based on state)
This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a few weeks, depending on where you are. I happened to be stateside for a temporary duty assignment and replaced my license in person at the Michigan Secretary of State. If you do it by mail, it can take a few weeks as you are sending forms back and forth with the secretary of state's office.
· USAREUR License $10
After filing a report with security forces - takes about 10-15 minutes - I took a copy of my report to the driver's licensing office. With that, I was able to fill out an application for a new license. I received a temporary license and will receive a new one via mail in about two to four weeks.
· Credit Cards $0
Luckily, replacing a credit card has become easier with technology. Most credit card companies now have efficient systems to cancel debit and credit cards quickly, as well as policies to reimburse you if your cards were used by someone other than yourself. I was able to cancel all my cards within an hour of my purse disappearing and received new ones within about two weeks. I tracked my accounts for the next month as well to make sure there were no suspicious purchases.
· Common Access Card $0
If the individual is a technical sergeant or below, that Airman must report to his or her first sergeant and security forces to have a memorandum signed, stating the card was lost or stolen and where it was last seen. The Airman can then proceed to the military personnel section with the form and an alternate form of ID -- a social security card, birth certificate, driver's license, etc. - and they are issued a new ID. If the individual is a master sergeant or higher, to include all officers, that person must report only to security forces for the signature and continue with the same steps to obtain a new CAC.
· Ration Card $0
To replace a ration card, you must provide a letter signed by the first sergeant saying your ration card was stolen to First Stop.
· Esso card $0
To obtain a new Esso card, go to the Base Exchange or Shoppette customer service desk with registration and ID in hand and report the card as lost or stolen. The old card will be de-activated but all information - including your rations and any money you had on the card - will be transferred.
· Wallet/purse - cost varies based on personal preference, but imagine losing a $350 purse or a wallet you purchased on a special trip.

Don't let theft ruin your holidays. Here are some common-sense tips, courtesy of 52nd Fighter Wing Security Forces Squadron, to help you travel smart and return home with a smile, souvenirs, and more importantly, everything you packed in the first place.
· Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.
· Keep a tight hold on everything with you, don't set anything down or turn away from it.
· Avoid flashing cash or belongings.
· Blend in - the more you appear to be a local, the less of a target you are to pick-pocketers.
· If you bump into someone, even by accident, double-check to make sure you still have everything.
· Use wallets and purses with snaps, zippers or clasps that make it more difficult to reach in and grab items.
· Carry wallets in the front pocket rather than a rear pocket.
· Tuck cash into hidden or zippered compartments in purses.
· Hold purses or bags in front of your body.
· If driving, hide all traces of valuable items in the car, including the mounting piece for GPS units.
· If you feel the need to offer money to someone on the street, be aware of who is around and watching as it could be a set-up to steal more than what you're giving.
· Make a copy of your passport and leave it where you are staying. If anything happens, you at least have immediate proof you're an American citizen, which could speed along the process of obtaining a new one at the consulate or embassy.
· Leave at least one credit card behind in the hotel where you are staying.
· While walking around, empty your wallet of unnecessary items, including your CAC, USAREUR license, ration card, receipts, photos, etc.
· If possible, keep all items you leave behind in a safe. If this isn't an option, keep them out of sight.