Recently on a Facebook group for digital nomads, someone posted they had just been robbed in Thailand. All their gear was stolen, and they wanted advice on what to do.
The post got us thinking: (Almost) all we own is in our carry-on backpacks, each and every item has value and if stolen would have an impact on us. So, what would happen if all our possessions were stolen, and what advice would we give (ourselves) in this situation?
1. Report the incident to the police
As with first aid, our first priority would be to remove ourselves from immediate danger. We would depart the location and go to the nearest police station to report the incident. Many police forces around the world won’t do anything to solve the actual crime, but getting a police report/file number is critical as many insurance policies require it.
Our current insurance policy, for example, states: We (the insurance company) will not pay a claim in relation to your luggage or personal effects if you do not report the loss, theft or misplacement to the police within 24 hours and have not obtained a written statement from the police.
2. Access essential personal information
Next, we would look for a way to access essential personal information in order to
- report the incident to our insurance company, financial institution and Government bodies; and
- reinstate our ability to sustain ourselves.
We could do this by going to the next Internet café, which would require us to have at least a small amount of money.
Sandra and I both use the Pacsafe Cashsafe Anti-Theft Travel Belt for emergency purposes like this. Our belts contain a small amount (of US Dollars), and a small piece of paper with critical emergency information. My shorts and pants won’t stay up without it, so I’m always wearing my belt when away from our accommodation.
Assuming that a robber would not take our belts off us, we could go to an Internet café and ask to use their facilities.
If indeed, we had no money on us, alternative options would be to go to
- our (prior or upcoming) accommodation;
- the nearest tourism information office; or
- our respective countries’ nearest Consular office / Embassy
whichever is closest and ask them for help / to use one of their computers.
While we have access to a computer, we would try and access essential personal information to reinstate our ability to sustain ourselves as quickly as possible. With us using password managers, we would need to do two things:
- download and install our password manager application – if need be we would download a 30-day trial version; and
- from the password manager application, we would open our password file in Dropbox.
Even though I change them regularly, for situations like these, I memorise my two critical passwords – my password manager and Dropbox.
While there is a good chance that an Internet café’s computer and network will be full of viruses, malware, etc, under the circumstances, we won’t have much choice but to complete these steps on their computer. I will go about changing the respective passwords as soon as I can in a controlled environment.
Make sure the Internet café allows the download and installation of software on their computers. Also, make sure you use the browser in Incognito mode. Don’t save your login information (especially not on a public computer). Watch for over the shoulder snoops. Use https and don’t leave the computer unattended with sensitive information on the screen.
What personal information we would retrieve from our password manager would depend on what was stolen but would most likely comprise the following:
- our credit card details and contact information of our financial institution/s;
- details of our passports and drivers licenses (if our belts got stolen); and
- our insurance policy number and contact details of our insurance company (if our belts got stolen).
While you have access to a computer, you may also want to print out a copy of your passport to use as identification for anyone who may ask. For emergency purposes, Sandra and I have stored digital images of our passports (and other key documents) in Dropbox (and on our respective devices).
Always store a PDF and JPEG version of your passport in your cloud storage, on any of your devices or in an email sent to yourself.
3. Contact your travel insurance company
Via the Internet café’s computer telephony program (or a normal land/mobile phone line), we would call our insurance company and explain what happened. The call centre is used for these incidents and will be able to provide reassurance and advice.
Before you buy a travel insurance policy, make sure you can call their claims department 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on a reverse charge telephone number while overseas.
4. Contact your financial institution/s
Chances are your robber will attempt to use your credit card/s. After contacting our travel insurance company, we would therefore immediately contact the financial institution/s whose cards were stolen and
- inform them of the theft;
- cancel the cards affected; and
- request the issue of (a) replacement card/s.
This is not only common sense but often also required by your insurance company.
Our current insurance policy, for example, states: We (the insurance company) will not pay a claim in relation to your luggage or personal effects if you do not report the loss, theft or misplacement to your financial institution within 24 hours and have not obtained a written statement from your financial institution.
5. Contact your Consular office / Embassy (and any other relevant Government authority)
If we are not already there in person, the next step would be to look up the details of our respective Consular office / Embassy and contact them (via reverse charge call or in person) to
- report that our passports were stolen; and
- apply for a (temporary) replacement passport.
Generally, your Consular office / Embassy would want to know your existing passport number, when and where it was stolen, potentially how it happened, and the reference number of your police report.
If other forms of ID were stolen (for example your drivers’ license or social security / medical insurance card) you will also need to inform the relevant Government authority to prevent fraudulent use of your personal data.
6. Inform close friends and family
Through your stolen items, strangers have now access to your identity. It is therefore important to let close friends and family know that
- your items were stolen but you are okay, and
- they could be contacted by scammers pretending to be you or using your ID fraudulently.
Other than a positive affirmation along the lines of ‘This is what happened… I am okay… I will contact you by phone if I need anything’, be careful using social media as they may have already been compromised.
7. Secure emergency funds
Given the predicament and keeping in mind how long it may take to replace stolen credit cards and passports, we would put our travel plans on hold for about two weeks. This would require an extension of our existing accommodation booking and cancellation of any onward travel plans.
It would also require (more) money. Our next step would, therefore, be to list and calculate our cash needs for the next two weeks: Keep in mind that you will need to pay for
- accommodation, food, and additional clothing,
- internet access and replacement of one device (in our case likely a tablet) to securely re-establish communications and address any security breach required when using a public computer/network.
Make sure you add some buffer for anything unforeseen (for example 25% of your calculated needs).
We would then contact one of our family members and ask to have money sent to us at the nearest Western Union, MoneyGram or TransferWise office.
8. Protect your personal data
Before leaving the Internet café (or any other location where we used a computer), we need to make sure that any personal information we have accessed while using a public computer/network remains as secure as possible.
These are the key steps we would take:
- Assuming our smartphones were stolen, we would access our icloud.com accounts to locate our devices and erase all data from them.
- Assuming you have used your browser in Incognito mode, nothing (no browser history or cookies) will be saved on the computer when you close the browser session. If you haven’t used Incognito mode you need to clear your browser history, passwords and cookies.
- To be on the safe side, we would also de-install our password manager application and remove any locally stored files from the computer.
- If the computer has a keyboard or screen capture software installed, there is nothing you can do about it. In any case, we would change passwords for all applications we used as soon as we are back in a secure environment.
Our Windows 10 based Surface Pros have BitLocker XLS-AES 256-bit mode enabled which would make it quite hard for someone to access our hard drives. Besides, as we have all our data stored in either OneDrive or Dropbox, we would not lose any of it if someone stole our Surface Pros.
Always use a strong password for your laptop computer. Laptop computers are easily hacked through software or removal of hard drives themselves, so a strong security mechanism is also important. Check our post on how to protect your personal data for more information.
Over the next few days…
Being robbed is never a nice experience, and it can shake us to the core, even if the incident did not involve physical violence. Taking these practical steps helps to get through the ordeal and makes us feel safe again.
Our next priority would be to secure some food and water (using any leftover emergency cash we have) to bridge the time until our emergency funds arrive. Once they do, we would use them (wisely) as per our list above.
Make sure you also complete your insurance claim within the time frame stipulated by your insurance company. For purposes like this, we have a full list of every item we travel with, including photo and purchase details. You can call me pedantic, I call it organised.
Being robbed and having your gear stolen is only one of many incidents that can happen while travelling. The good news is though that many incidents are avoidable with some preparation, common sense and vigilance.
First published in August 2017, updated May 2018
Feature photo by Shutterstock