It was a busy morning at Aki’s Food To-Go and Grocery in Manteca. It was the crunch before the lunch hour, and owner Elda Paneda was busy attending to the customer traffic at the front counter.
But as busy as she was with about a dozen customers lined up before the cash register, the arrival of three young women did not escape her attention. Practically all of their Aki’s customers are familiar, if not by name, by face given their type of business which caters to the Asian milieu. She quickly noted that she has never seen the three around before and mentally filed them as new customers who may later turn into returning visitors.
The three browsed around, then “they split up,” Paneda said.
Shortly thereafter, one of the three women who browsed through the grocery section of the store went up to Paneda and asked if she could use the restroom. The restrooms happen to be located on the opposite side of the dry goods section, with the food-to-go counter and cash register situated in between.
A short while later, during a lull at the cash register, Paneda needed to quickly duck inside her office which happens to be right across the narrow walkway from the restrooms. It was then that she noticed her purse missing from the top of her desk where she had placed it.
Inside her purse were $3,000 in cash, her wallet with her driver’s license and credit cards, her rosary and other religious items, “and everything that you can imagine a woman put in her bag,” Paneda said with ironic humor as she related her traumatic experience a few days ago.
She did not attach any significance to the arrival of the three women earlier until later that day when she and her husband Sonny learned about a similar incident that happened at another Asian store in Tracy in the afternoon. Paneda said they are friends with the owners of the Tracy store, and that’s how they heard about it.
The first thing that Paneda did after she discovered her purse missing was to report to the issuers that her credit cards, checkbooks, and driver’s license have been stolen. Even though she acted as quickly as she could, the suspects who swiped her purse were still able to use her credit card at a Chevron gas station.
Fortunately for the Panedas, they took some security steps in place earlier in the event something like this ever happened. They receive a text alert if their card is being used to charge for something worth more than $25. They got the text alert when their card was used at a Chevron gas station.
“They used it just once,” just minutes after her purse was stolen, a thankful Paneda said.
She reported the incident right away to the Manteca Police. A police officer met with Paneda at the store and gathered all the pertinent data. The investigation is continuing.
“I got the case number and everything,” she said.
Paneda said one of the valuable lessons she learned from this unfortunate incident is that it taught her to be more alert. And, she added, “you should look at every customer that comes in and look at them in the face, not because they are dressed up” but simply to become familiarized with them.
Aki’s was originally located in the commercial complex behind Chubby’s on North Main Street. About three years ago, the building burned to the ground. Several months later, the Panedas were able to secure an available commercial building not too far from their original location. Their new building used to be occupied by the Mexican La Altena store, which is now located on East Yosemite Avenue where Goodwill used to be.
What to do before, and after, credit cards are lost or stolen
There are several websites on the Internet that address this problem which could result in identity theft. Here are some helpful pointers from experts on what to do when credit cards, ATM cards and debit cards, or other identity documents are either stolen or lost. Keeping them in mind could take away some of the sting resulting from the painful experience:
• Make copies of the fronts and backs of all your cards and file them in a safe place. Copy the 800-numbers of the companies that issued the cards and take those numbers with you, in your wallet or purse, wherever you go such as when you’re going on vacation. Store the original cards in a safe place. When lost or stolen while on vacation, your card can be mailed to you overnight by some of the card companies.
• Never carry your checkbooks with you unless it is absolutely necessary. Mari Frank, an attorney and certified information privacy professional as well as author and inventor of the Identity Theft Survival Kit, says: “With checks, someone can siphon out the money before you can even dispute the charges. The routing and account numbers are at the bottom, so someone can make cheap new checks at Office Depot with your information. Banks don’t pay close attention to anything but those numbers – in my files, I even have checks someone made and used with the name Mickey Mouse on them.”
• Do not leave PIN number in your wallet; don’t write it on your card either. Memorize it. Never use birth date, phone number, Social Security number or any other easily determined number for your PIN.
• Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
Added Frank, “If you’re a victim of wallet theft, you have to treat it just like it’s an identity theft. The information in there is worth more than the money.”