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I’ll never forget it: I was sitting at a café near the Vieux-Port in Marseille, my shoulders turning pink from the afternoon July sun. A man came up from behind me, put his arm around me and forcibly tried to kiss me.
I was caught so off guard by his toothless, disgusting grin that I didn’t notice him swipe my iPhone from right in front of me off the table.
It took me less than three minutes after shooing the man away for me to realize what had happened — but by the time I spun around to see where he went, he was long carried away by a sea of people.
As a solo female traveler, I’ve always been cautious while out and about during a trip. But the one time I let my guard down — I had been chatting with a French family sitting across from me and not being diligent with where my phone was — my nightmare situation began to unfold.
The thief didn’t only take my phone. He also took the credit and debit card I had on the trip with me, which were in my phone case that doubled as a wallet. I was alone, with seven euros in my pocket, and a whole lot of panic.
Steps to Take After Experiencing a Theft Abroad
I live in France, so the good news is I was only a two hour train-ride from home. But it also meant that it was going to take me weeks to get everything replaced (everything takes twice as long in France).
I was also so dumbfounded that it was hard for me to set up a solid plan of what to do right after I realized I was a victim of theft. Here’s what I learned along the way — and what you should do if you ever find yourself in the (unfortunate) same situation.
1. Cancel All Bank and Credit Cards Immediately
After being robbed, time truly is of the essence.
You’ll want to contact your bank and credit card issuers immediately to cancel your cards and prevent the thief from making any unauthorized charges to your account. You’d be surprised at how quickly they move; just minutes after I canceled my credit card, it was declined for a 40 € purchase at the train station (I was able to see the notification in my email upon my return to my Airbnb).
Thankfully, the family I was chatting with just moments before I was robbed helped me out. They helped me look up my financial institutions’ phone numbers (the father had his laptop with him) and then let me use their phone to contact them. If that family hadn’t been there, I would’ve ran home to use my Skype on my laptop to call.
If you don’t have immediate access to a phone, try heading to a nearby hotel and explaining what happened and that you need to make an emergency call. If you don’t have access to a computer to look up your banks’ phone numbers, try contacting the US Embassy in the country you’re in and ask for them for the numbers (I know, for example, the US Embassy in France bank lists and credit card phone numbers here — it’s always worth asking for help).
2. Suspend Your Cell Phone Service
If your phone was stolen, suspending your cellular service is just as important as canceling your credit and debit cards.
I did manage to get my US phone carrier to turn off my service, but the thieves took my French SIM card out of my phone and racked up 200 € worth of phone calls to North Africa before I got around to canceling it. Looking back, I wish I had moved to cancel it sooner!
If you don’t cancel your phone in time, and the thieves end up making unauthorized calls from your account, you can likely dispute it with your service provider. T-Mobile, for example, says customers can dispute unauthorized charges on their account — but will require documentation to prove that the usage was after your phone was stolen. This is why filing a detailed police report will help (see below)!
3. File a Police Report
Contrary to what you’ve been told, the police are likely not going to work with you to hunt down the thief and retrieve your phone. Instead, you’ll want to head to the police station to file an official report stating what happened and what items were stolen.
Note that you’ll likely need a police report to replace items or file insurance claims. Travel insurance servicers, for example, will likely request the police report when you’re filling out a claim. I also needed the report to get my school identity card replaced for free.
I will note that the police in Marseille advised against me filling out a police report because my phone wasn’t insured. I ended up filing the report in Paris after realizing I’d need the report to dispute unauthorized charges on my French SIM. Even if the police tell you that you don’t need to file a report, do so anyway. You’ll be better off having an official report than not having one.
4. Contact Your Insurance
You might think this section only applies to you if you have travel insurance. But the truth is, not many travel insurance policies cover theft — bare bones policies, which only cover travel disruptions, also don’t cover for theft.
Instead, it’s your homeowner or renters insurance that will come in handy after being a victim of theft abroad. Most insurance plans offer worldwide coverage for personal property up to 10% or more of your personal property limit. That means if you have a limit of $ 100,000, you’ll have $ 10,000 covered worldwide.
Read More: What Kind Of Coverage Does Home Insurance Offer For Travelers?
It’s important to note that certain types of property — like jewelry and fine watches — have coverage limits that are oftentimes low. So hopefully your Rolex wasn’t stolen. It’s always recommended to speak with your insurance agent beforehand to know exactly what’s covered and how much you’ll be reimbursed.
Don’t have renters or home insurance? Some credit cards offer cell phone insurance. To be covered, you’ll have to pay your phone bill each month with the credit card. Specific terms vary by credit card, but some policies will reimburse for up to $ 800 per claim and $ 1,600 per year, after any deductibles.
If you’re like me and don’t have renters insurance, or cell phone insurance coverage through a credit card, you might have to stomach the replacement costs on your own. For me, it was a tough lesson to learn; but now I’m better prepared, should I be a victim of theft again in the future.
5. Replace Your Passport
The Department of State has detailed instructions for how to replace a stolen passport. In short, you should expect to visit the nearest US Embassy or Consulate to apply for an emergency passport that will be sufficient to get you back to the US You can get the emergency passport replaced by mail once you get home.
Being robbed is an experience no one wants or deserves. But if you act quickly and cancel your credit and bank cards, as well as your cell phone if applicable, you can minimize the financial damage and put an unsavory incident behind you.