Friday, November 12, 2010

If I were a hooker

We had a little excitement here yesterday.  In fact, technically we were victims of a crime.  But thanks to the ever more abstract nature of currency and commodities, it has so far amounted to little more than an inconvenience and an interesting topic for dinner conversation.

Dr. Mom called me at lunchtime yesterday.  The kids were threatening to melt down, having missed their morning nap due to a zoo meetup with my Asian Mommies group.

"Is my wallet in the office?" she asked.

I bounced whining Cobra in one arm and cradled the phone against my ear with my shoulder as I opened the door to the office and kicked some empty boxes over to see if there were any errant wallets around.  Nothing.

"Damn it!" She said.  "Did you charge anything on the Master Card today?"

She had gotten an email alert about some unusual activity on one of our credit cards.  I hadn't bought anything.

It looked like someone had snatched her wallet out of her bag in her office.

"Bastards!" I said.

Her clinic is in a rough part of town, and some of the patients are kind of sketchy.  The vast majority of them are just working stiffs who can't afford insurance; but there are also some punk-ass kids, gang-bangers, drug-seekers, and other hyphenated riff-raff who get their medical care there.

There was a very small amount of  cash in the wallet, and we quickly canceled the few cards that were in there.  But still, the thieves managed to go on quite a little spending spree on the dime of our bank and credit card companies before we realized what had happened.

By the end of the day, a storyboard emerged, sketching out how the crook(s) had spent his or her (or their) afternoon:

1) Picked up some equipment or phone cards or whatever else they sell at the Cricket Wireless store right across the street from my wife's clinic (we didn't get many details on that transaction.)

2) Filled the gas tanks of two cars--one with the credit card, one with debit.  (This is conjecture based on where the charges were incurred.  They could well have spent seventy bucks on Slim Jims and Slush Puppies.)

3) Used both our credit and debit cards to buy fifty bucks worth of food at McDonald's.  (That's a lot of goddamn McNuggets!)

4) Rented two DVDs from Redbox.  (I hope we can find out what movies they got.  I'm guessing they won't return them on time.)

5) Bought $112.00 worth of groceries at Food 4 Less.

6) Tried and failed (because we had frozen that card by the time they got there) to buy a thousand dollars worth of clothes at Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Gap stores at the outlet mall.   

Since the charges on the cards would be forgiven, and the missing cash and actual wallet didn't constitute a loss worthy of teeth-gnashing and garment-rending, Dr. Mom and I wound up processing this affront by playing a variation of a game we like to call, "If I Were a Hooker."

This game developed organically, based on the kind of unfiltered commentary that only people who trust each other implicitly to neither judge nor publicly repeat their observations would dare utter aloud.

The game usually takes place on the stretch of road between our house and Dr. Mom's clinic--four miles of hardscrabble strip-malls, ethnic storefronts, and working-class housing tracts populated by some of the most colorful people I've seen anywhere.  Among the immigrants from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America--whose cultural perspectives on vehicular and foot traffic transform driving, walking, and biking into sometimes harrowing adventures--you will inevitably see some unsavory characters staggering around.  This roadside bazaar of humanity prompted the first round of the game, when I said something like, "If I were a bum [shorthand for 'self-employed homeless person'--my wife knows what I mean], I would invest in a bike and rig up a trailer to haul my bottles and cans to the recycling center." This led to a good twenty-minute discussion of the economics of scavenging.

Later, my wife, upon seeing some cling-wrapped women on the street corner, mused, "If I were a hooker [she uses this term non-judgmentally instead of the politically correct but clunky 'sex worker'], I would wear much more comfortable shoes."  Thus the name of our heuristic process for exploring the motivations of the marginalized was coined, and another line of inquiry into lives on the fringes of society was opened.

So, by playing "If I Were a Hooker," using the few details we had about the purchases the larcenist(s) had made, or tried to make, with our stolen cards, we were able to cobble together a profile of him/her/them.

"If I were a credit card thief," Dr. Mom said, "I would buy a bunch of high-end electronics before the account was frozen."

"Yeah," I said.  "Or jewelry.  Something I could sell to a fence later.  I sure as hell wouldn't go to McDonald's."

"A fence?  Do people still use that term, Barretta?"

And on we went like that, questioning their odd decisions and coming up with theories that brought us closer to knowing the criminals behind the theft.

Fifty dollars worth of McDonald's and two tanks of gas.  Sounds like a big group. A group, or a gang?  But, Food 4 Less?  What gang-bangers would shop there?  Thrifty ones, I guess.  When I first heard about the Food 4 Less charges, I thought, it's just some desperate sonofabitch trying to feed his family in this shit economy.  But after discovering the info about Redbox and Old Navy, I started to imagine a bunch of good-for-nothing kids behind it. 

They knew enough to start buying stuff right away, which suggested that this wasn't their first rodeo.  But for all their wild spending, they were oddly frugal, and they didn't know which stores to shop at to avoid arousing suspicion that would lead to the cards being canceled.

"I would have gone to Whole Foods for groceries if I were them," I said.  "You could spend a grand in fifteen minutes."

"Right," Dr. Mom said.  "And any patient of mine knows that I would never eat at McDonald's.  A charge there would be a big red flag to the credit card company.  They should have gone out for sushi."

"Yeah," I said.  "And the outlet mall?  Why wouldn't they just go to the regular mall and spend twice as much in half the time?"

We kept second-guessing the bandits until we concluded that they must have been teenagers who, though streetwise, were not sophisticated enough to figure out how to really turn a profit on the heist.  And they probably just went to the places where they normally shopped; maybe places where they knew no one would check their IDs if they used a credit card.

In the end, it sucks to think that my wife can't trust her patients, but it's not that big of a deal in terms of actual loss for us.  Dr. Mom filed a police report, but no one thinks justice is forthcoming.

On one hand, I would like to slap the shit out of whoever stole our stuff.  But in a way, it's also a victimless crime.  The credit card companies will suck up the charges, and all we have to do is get new cards.  In fact, by patronizing franchisees that we never would have visited, the thieves may have provided a little stimulus to the local economy.

It's a shame they didn't go to Payless and buy some sensible shoes for the hookers while they were at it.         

48 comments:

  1. Petty thieves don't think like you and I. If I were a Hooker I'd head straight to the nearest shopping centre and buy my limit in gift vouchers. I could then spend my time really thinking of what I need to buy. Either that or head straight to the travel agent and book a cruise.

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  2. If I were a hooker I'd starve.

    If I were a credit card thief I'd get the 4 new tyres I need on the car.Can they not go bald one at a time?Well,they aren't completely bald.More of a comb over really.

    Hello Scots lass

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  3. It must have been late at night and those were the only things open? (Nah, stupidity over-rules) If I got a hold of a credit card, I would fondly cradle it in my arms (been a long time since I have seen one) Then I would go to Target, because with my OWN money I can't leave without spending $100 so with someone else's - sheesh, let's just say we'd need 2 carts...

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  4. In Las Vegas, the Hubster had his debit card lifted by God knows who. In the "If I were a hooker" game, they would have been pros. He lost the card, not the wallet. They were able to make actual cash withdrawls, so they jimmied the pin code out of him, too.

    I love this game. It's a wonder Cranium doesn't have a version of it.

    PS-Fave line of this post: "hyphenated riff-raff"

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  5. Beta dad are you up in the middle of the night there on the west coast? This post is hilarious. I wish Dr. Mom would do a blog, she throws out the Barretta line. HAHAHAHA.

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  6. There are those who would say it's NOT a victimless crime, that the losses the credit card companies must swallow get passed down to the rest of us in fees and interest rates...

    And then there are those, like me, who would call that kind of reasoning an asshole.

    New around here but really enjoying your blog.

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  7. Weird. I just finished reading a book about a hooker last night.

    You know, one of the consolations of being poor and not having any credit cards is that no one wants to steal from me. Heh. Ah, good stuff.

    If I were a hooker, I'd stalk Richard Gere look alikes. 'Cause you never know...

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  8. You know why they went to McDonald's? The return of the McRib sandwich.

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  9. Dude, last year my identity was stolen.. Here is a heads up from a cop who took my report, btw he follows this:
    1. NEVER use your debit card as a credit card... ONLY USE your credit card to pay bills and purchases... REASON: If your credit card is stolen, it is THE BANK'S MONEY NOT YOURS...also DO NOT APPLY for those credit cards at the register.. that is how my info was stolen.. at the reg., they ask for you to type in your SS, and your sig., also they type in your personal info on their register.. I WILL NEVER GET A CREDIT CARD AT A MERCHANT STORE.. ITS NOT WORTH THE LOUSY % OFF OF THE PURCHASE... (I am not screaming at ya, just typing in bold because of the importance)... It was hell getting my info., locked down and dealing w/changing checking accts. The bank did reimburse me for the money loss. U can email me for more info.

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  10. And it just hit me what a great name for a band: Hyphenated Riff-Raff.

    And, when are you rolling out Beta Book Club?

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  11. Great thing about your blog, your comments are as entertaining. My son had his WOW account hacked a few months ago & when we got in touch with Blizzard the hackers were still playing.

    For months the theives tried to get Blizzard to give them the account back saying it was theirs. They had also stolen email account linked to it. Got all back, but keeping the email account open just to watch what follow up they keep sending trying to get both back.

    I guess they figure when they steal something it's theirs for life!

    Had to hot card credit card, but Blizzard said they couldn't have accessed that. Well they shouldn't have been able to do what they did.

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  12. So not to be all serious because that is so not my bag, but was her driver's license in there? And did it have your correct address? That's always the part that makes me widgey. Someone knowing where I live and when I'm usually out of the house. And now you're probably not going to sleep very well, are you? Bad, Elly. Sorry, pookie.

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  13. I've had my wallet stolen twice. It always seems like the first place they go is to the gas station! Both times the thieves bought gas and several cartons of cigarettes.

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  14. I had my wallet stolen and the fuckers went to buy smoothies and about $600 worth of crap at Ross. There were expensive stores in the vicinity of the theft, and they chose Jamba Juice and last season's irregular merchandise? It made doing the paperwork for the fraudulent activity even more annoying and wasteful of my time.

    By the way, your header is amazing.

    Flora

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  15. If I were to "find" a credit card, I'd head straight to the grocery store and buy my weight in Eggos. I love me some Eggos! Great post. I had my wallet stolen/lost last year and it was such a pain to get everything back. The biggest problem was my SScard was in there just for that day. I needed it for something. So now to get a new DL, I needed a SS card. So, I had to play hell to get a new SS card! Good luck to you guys.

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  16. Glad to know my co-workers and I are not the only ones who play "If I were..."

    Our version lasted a good weeks worth of lunch hours discussing where we would seek shelter and what we would do with our daily pan handling cash intake.

    Best response was " I would use my money to keep my monthly gym membership so I could still work out and shower daily.". That seemed like a pretty decent plan.

    Sorry that your family was a victim of a crime...but great post!

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  17. I have heard that one of the triggers the credit card companies have for "suspicious use" is when a card is used to buy 2 tanks of gas and then sneakers. Supposedly this is a classic scenario for card stealers: buy themselves and a friend a tank of gas, and then hit The Athletes Foot for a couple of pairs of Nikes.
    Also, cops may say they will do their best, but, HA!
    Fraudsters like this usually get caught when they go just a bit too far, like steal the Mayor's wallet, or try to buy nukes from Pakistan by mail, or when violence gets involved somehow. Stealing credit cards is probably one of the lowest-risk crimes (for the criminal) there is.
    To give you an example, a friend of mine had her card number grabbed somewhere and the person who took it ordered stuff from QVC and SENT TO THEIR HOME ADDRESS. My friend had actually found this out by going through her statement, and calling QVC (a process which took about 5 minutes) but QVC would not tell her what address the stuff was sent to, they said the cops would have to ask.
    So she went to the cops and told them they could find the skells with one or two phone calls. The cops just weren't interested and never bothered to follow up.

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  18. You are really lucky they were just a bunch of teenage (or however old) idiots. Otherwise, the theft could have been more difficult to prove. I had my credit card information stolen a while ago... they bought shit in Europe. A couch I think? I haven't been to Europe in over 5 years. I felt so violated. Thieving bastards.

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  19. Any post that references "Barretta" is awesome. Somewhere in Heaven, Fred the Cockatoo is smiling, or whatever it is that cockatoos do to express joy. Pooping, perhaps.

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  20. That is a really sad assortment of charges. For someone who just stole a credit card I mean.

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  21. you had me at "if I were a hooker"

    that so happened to me. wallet taken right out of my office desk. sucks.

    so I hate to be all logical and all (especially because your game is awesome), but I learned a little about credit card theft when I went to school for merchandising and marketing. they go where their IDs won't be checked and often don't buy product, but gift cards that they can trade for cash. so McDs, Old Navy, gas stations, all good places to turn over cash quick without getting spotted. an electronics store would probably (hopefully) check ID.

    :)

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  22. @Daft--That is brilliant! I guess it's good that fewer smart people go into petty crime. Wait. I guess smart people with those inclinations go into finance. Maybe not so good.

    @Jacks--I think you mean "tires." Anyway, I would probably forgive you for charging tires to my card. Safety first!

    @Kristin--I think all the charges happened between 11 a.m. and noon. I don't think they had much of a plan. It was a crime of whimsy.

    @Uncool--How many McRibs can you get for fifty bucks? For that matter, how many McRibs does one cow (pig? goat? textured protein mass?) have?

    @KBF--That's all good advice. Identity theft is the worst. Sorry it happened to you. It looks like our bank and credit card company are going to take care of everything.

    @Nicole--Yeah...that's not bad, is it? Re: book club--I keep thinking about it, but I'm having a hard time getting beyond that stage. Maybe in a month or so. Dr. Mom will have some time off, which will allow me to do more stuff.

    @Elly Lou--Yeah, her DL was in there. We're telling ourselves that these guys are amateurs and wouldn't have the balls to come to our house. Also we have a huge crazy dog. And a medium-sized, sometimes-cranky SAHD. No worries-not losing sleep over it.

    @Prima--There are certain things that small-time hoodlums just need, I guess.

    @Flora--Ross? Weird. Why not Armani Exchange? They must count on the cashiers at the discount stores being less particular about IDs, etc. Also, I wonder if people who steal stuff feel like they would be viewed with suspicion just walking into high-end stores. Thanks for the props on the banner. I had almost nothing to do with it. I love it too!

    @Denny--What a drag! I thought that if you lost your SS card, you pretty much ceased to exist and had to go underground. And the Eggo heist? You are a criminal mastermind!

    @Just Jon--I think about the best way to be comfortably indigent quite frequently. The more I look at it, the more it becomes clear that trash-picking is way too much work. I always end up at a point where I say, "I might as well just get a job if I'm going to go to all that trouble." Also, I wrote a story in college (20 years ago) where the narrator lived in his van and took showers at the gym. I suspect that actually happens a lot.

    @JJ--Oh man! That QVC story fires up my indignation receptors. There are way too many stories like that. I like to think that cops are overworked, not disinterested.

    @M--That's crazy. Europe? It sounds like some kind of Phishing deal. (Do people still use that term?) What a nightmare!

    @Jason--Like I always say, keep your eye on the sparrow when the going gets narrow.

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  23. I had my wallet stolen las January, had 2 debit cards in it - the first one i just received and didn't even add any money to it, and the second one i replaced just a month ago (it get's replaced every year). I was at a book store and my wallet was in the bag, dunno how someone managed to sneak upon me that i did not notice it... anyway, i blocked the second card which had money on it.

    For 2 weeks it was quiet. And then, one evening my cellphone is spammed with messages of failed transaction for the blocked card. I assume it wasn't blocked, they just created a new card and moved my money to it, so the old one wasn't actually blocked, but rather had 0 funds on it.

    The person who stole it tried to cash different sums of money, each one smaller than the previous - probably he got "insufficient funds" error or something. I wished so bad to be able to sms him back "you fking MORON, you're trying to cash something out after TWO WEEKS?!"
    i mean, who the hell wouldn't block a stolen card after it's been two weeks already?!

    the only bad thing about all of that (besides losing cash i had in that wallet and the wallet itself) is that the bank where i got that new card i had no money on - they wanted me to pay them 3 times more than i payed to open the card in the first place. because it was stolen from me, like i am to blame for that! it's been a year and still can't get rid of them...

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  24. Oops. Missed some people.

    @Judi--don't worry about me. I have my robot minions write posts while I sleep! Dr. Mom keeps threatening to guest post, but all her best stories might violate HIPPA regs.

    @Julie--I'm so glad you're here. Yeah, it's hard to get worked up about creditors losing money through theft when they tend to specialize in nickle and diming their customers to death.

    @OTO--Mo money mo problems. We don't really have that many problems.

    @4dreamers--Yeah! I love it when people tell stories in the comments! I know nothing about the WOW universe, but the fact that people are hacking into each other's accounts is just another layer of spookiness. I'm going to steer clear of that stuff.

    @Drew--I thought so too. Andygirl has a good explanation for it.

    @Andygirl--I kind of figured they went to places where they were lax about checking. They tried Old Navy because one of the cards was from there (also works at Banana and Gap). I think the merchants who don't check ID should have to eat at least part of the cost.

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  25. McDonald's AND Food 4 Less? That's just pure gluttony. I wonder how many of the 7 sins you actually funded that day?

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  26. Beta Dad said...

    @Jacks--I think you mean "tires." Anyway, I would probably forgive you for charging tires to my card. Safety first!

    ______________________________________________

    You say tom-ay-to I say tom-ah-to.

    Over here it's tyres.

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  27. i'm guessing you'd tag my shopping carts of franzia as amateur.

    sers, sorry for the violation. : (

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  28. When I got mugged last month, the police took it very seriously because the guy choked me unconscious. He'd also been let of out of jail 2 hours before and a condition of his probation was that he not be in the area where he jumped me. So he got nailed with six felonies (some since been dropped by the DA) and three misdemeanors, and the detective for my case has visited every place the various credit and debit cards were used. Also, because it was outside a subway station, the attack itself was filmed by security cameras---though apparently a tree blocked some of what happened. Smart.

    As others have noted, criminals like this aren't very bright but seem unusually consistent. Most of the charges were really stupid. With five cards they could have bought a lot of expensive stuff, though it helped that I was mugged at 11:15 pm, so most things were closed and I'd canceled most of the cards by the next morning.

    Anyway, the most sensible items were two subway tickets ($50 and $20) and a visit to Safeway (the most they managed to spend: $141). Aside from that it was a gas station ($5 the first try, denied the second), another gas station ($61), Burger King ($8), a convenience store ($1.11...!!?), and an attempted $773 at Apple online; no idea where they would have had it delivered, but it was denied.

    The credit card companies were a breeze to deal with; the biggest (and most worrisome) issue is that they have my drivers license and house keys (since changed, obviously). But they seem too dumb to succeed at identity theft.

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  29. My wallet got stolen while I was vacationing in London once, and it had a lot of cash and several credit cards, but that's not really what bothered me. I was more bothered by the fact that I lost my wallet and all the stuff inside it, like pictures, etc...

    Sorry to hear about Dr. Mom's wallet...but glad to hear that the loss wasn't great.

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  30. First of all, your header? Probably the single most adorable thing I've ever seen. (Sorry if it's been up for a while--I'm a RSS reader gal)

    Secondly, is it sad that the part I got most excited about during your "If I Were A Credit Card Thief" game was Whole Foods? Because the thought of going on a grocery store spree is almost enough to make me go on a credit card thieving spree.

    Yes. I'm one of Those People who look longingly at the agave syrup and the pineapple teriyaki sauce. Don't judge me.

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  31. Sounds like the thief didn't even make it out of Mission Valley. Everything they bought is in one block of centrally located franchises. Geez, Thief: at least go up to La Jolla and try your luck.

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  32. One of my pet hates...thieves. At least you didn't have to pay fot it, but still, makes you mad.
    I lost my wallet. Unfortunatly I left it on the roof of my car and it flew off the first corner I went around. (I've also did the same thing to a mobile phone). ANyway, I realised later that it was gone, rang my dad if he could see it out on the road. It wasnt there, but my dad remembers that a car pulled up there some time before. That was it. My wallet was gone. So I rang and cancelled all of the cards. Hours later I got home and there was a note on my front door from the police. Someone had handed my wallet in! I called them straight away, and ten minutes later two very nice (and cute) policemen brought my wallet to my door, with everything still inside.
    There are still some honest people out there.

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  33. After $50 0f McDonald's they're probably dead.

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  34. One of my worse fears: identity thief! It happened to my very conservative brother; so I figure, if it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone! I could have told you it was probably a bunch of idiotic kids (or such stupid minds)! Anyway, if you were a hooker, you'd demand cash!

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  35. Hey, my husb and I tried to play this game once! "if I were a hooker..." "Ha ha ha. You? Ahhhhh----" I stabbed him. That's why "once"...

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  36. I love the responses to this post. I was also thinking that after $50 of McDicks they'd be dead, or end up back at Dr. Mom's clinic!
    I've had lots of stuff stolen, the worst is when your cell and/or camera is stolen and you know they're going through your pics and emails and facebook. Creeps.

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  37. Blerg! I lost my whole comment because the damn CAPTCHA was so awesome I just had to click on view image and reset the window. Awesome comment lost forever. fuck.

    So now instead of my witty-witticisms I leave you instead the best captcha I've come across.
    SCALGISM.

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  38. The McRib is back?!?! Hide your kids, hide your credit cards!!!!

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  39. Yeah, I am guessing they weren't brain surgeons with some complex strategies on how to optimize the take.

    LOL, The Captains right. We have all seen Super Size Me.

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  40. My co-worker had her wallet stolen out of her desk three separate times. After the second time, I couldn't help wondering why the hell she kept sticking her wallet in her desk.

    This does sound like some hoodlum kids that just wanted to have some fun, rather than having any kind of a plan for turning a profit. They really need to watch more movies.

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  41. Just started reading your blog recently, and wanted to come say hello and tell you how I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. Thank you :)

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  42. I'm sorry to hear that you got your credit card stolen, but I couldn't help but laugh a little when I read this post.

    Seriously, if someone did steal a card, why (of all places) go to Mcdonald's? I mean, where I live, there's a limited place to go shop, but even I wouldn't go to McDonald's...

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  43. That sucks! But seriously, who goes to McDonald's BEFORE shopping for $1000? Stupid.

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  44. And really?

    My word verification was "hotho"

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  45. Sorry to hear about the credit card thieves. I find your game "if I were a hooker" hilarious. My boyfriend and I contemplate stuff like that all the time. Great post.

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  46. "hyphenated riff-raff" - they are indeed the worst! Also, I love the game! I'm going to start it with my wife.

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  47. I'd be really curious to know what movies the riff-raff like these days. In fact, I bet the cops could do a profile sketch of people who steal credit cards based on the movies they rent with the stolen cards (because I'm sure it's happened quite a bit). Too bad it happened to you but, like you say, at least it wasn't worse and you got reimbursed.

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  48. @Nyx: Actually, a lot of thieves go for small purchases first once they've managed to steal your identity. (Not that I would know this from experience...) Which may be why they started with McDonald's, rather than...I dunno, Applebee's?

    Definitely don't envy you, though. It's nice you managed to get your card canceled before they could do any real damage. (Assuming, of course, you don't mind the hundred or so dollars they racked up at a grocery store.)

    If I were a hooker, I would save and invest my earnings in a 401K.

    If I were a credit card thief, I...wouldn't.

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