Preventive measures should be taken to ward off the thefts.
By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- It took only a few minutes for someone to steal Madonna Chism-Pinkard's purse from the front seat of her parked car and head off on a shopping spree at Southern Park Mall.
Pinkard was visiting a family member on Youngstown's South Side on July 16. She was going back and forth between the house and her car, which was parked in the driveway, unloading groceries.
A short time after the bags had been taken into the house, Pinkard realized her purse had been left on the car's front seat while she carried in the groceries.
Too late -- the purse was gone.
She called police, her bank and credit card companies, but again was too late.
"I just wasn't fast enough. These people must have taken my purse and immediately went to the mall," she said.
Pinkard was told that unauthorized charges totaling $600 had already been made at several stores inside Southern Park Mall.
Sgt. Albert Kakascik of the Boardman Township police said Pinkard was a victim of what authorities call a "crime of opportunity," where criminals wait for any opportunity to get away with an unattended purse or wallet.
Because of the large shopping district in the township, Kakascik sees a lot of opportunistic crimes.
"There are people who walk around the various stores and look for these things and it happens so quick," he said. "We have had instances on video where we know a person has lost a purse and we see someone walk up, but you can't tell they took it."
Kakascik said Pinkard did the right thing by immediately notifying the authorities and her financial institutions. If the purse or wallet is taken while inside a store, store personnel should be notified as well, he said.
What to do
Should an individual see a thief attempting to steal his or her purse or wallet, Kakascik says it is never wise to physically confront the thief. A similar situation recently in the township resulted in the death of a man who was trying to stop another man from driving off with his wife's purse.
Instead of physical confrontation, Kakascik said it is best to get a good physical description, make a lot of noise to alert others in the area of what is going on and, most important, get the license plate number of any vehicle in which the thief attempts to leave.
Pinkard said any thief trying to use her credit cards should have been rejected before the first transaction because all her cards are marked "check user's ID" on the back.
"What concerns me the most is that a person could go into a store and use a card that clearly reads Madonna on the card. No one checks for ID or even looks at the card," she said.
Kakascik said consumers should not rely on clerks in stores to check for ID as a backup plan for recovering stolen credit cards. He agrees that most clerks do not check for identification, but he blames the credit card companies for not demanding that they do so with each transaction.
The best solution, said Kakascik, is to take basic precautions to prevent the theft in the first place or minimize the financial damage resulting from such a theft. The most important thing, he said, is to always keep a wallet or purse in one's direct possession -- not in a shopping buggy, in a car or on a counter in a store. If a purse must be left in a car, it should be locked in the trunk.
Kakascik said a Social Security card should never be carried in a purse and shoppers should limit themselves to carrying one credit card at a time. It is also prudent, he said, to make sure the purse or wallet is fastened shut at all times. Some thieves are skillful enough to take the contents of the purse while leaving the bag itself intact.
Kakascik said a growing number of people are leaving grocery store check cashing cards, such as the Giant Eagle Advantage Card, inside their checkbooks. Once a thief has those two items, he said, no ID is needed to cash a check, turning the victim's checking account into a virtual piggy bank for the thief.
Pinkard's case has a somewhat happy ending. Police know who one of the thieves is -- she used a discount card complete with her name and address to buy jewelry with one of Pinkard's stolen cards. Kakascik, however, said many of these crimes go unsolved because it is hard to identify the culprit.