The Day I Became A Stolen Gear Cautionary Tale

If you ever find yourself in a bunch of photography groups on Facebook, every so often you'll see a horror story of a photographer who had their gear stolen. The first question is always "Do you have insurance?" followed by the caution to never do x, y and z - after the fact of course.  I truly never thought I would be one of those stories - until I was.

On the morning of April 10, some bored kids out on spring break "broke in" to my willfully unlocked car and not only stole my backup gear, but my business debit card as well. Oh, and my jumper cables. Savages. I have posted images on my Instagram of my carrying my huge gear bag into stores with me after a session because I am so adamant about not leaving gear in the car. So how did this happen?

I shot a wedding for an awesome couple, Ben and Cortne, on Saturday. I always take my trusty old D7000 with me as a back-up to each wedding. Because the amount of gear I take is already rather heavy, I usually remove the D7000 from my bag and leave it in my car until it may be needed. I so cleverly usually hide it under a jacket or other article of clothing and go about the rest of my day.

After wrapping up the wedding and heading home, I stopped for takeout as a post-wedding celebratory pig out. You other photographers know what I'm talking about! As I was doing the shuffle of grabbing the takeout bag, making sure I took my card, signing the receipt, and not stealing the waiters pen, I slid my card in my camera bag pocket.

Two days later, I rolled over in bed and grabbed my cell phone. I did the usual morning ritual and checked my social media and email. In my email I found 4 credit card receipts that I didn't recognize. Sometimes there is a delay or hold on a card when you shop, but I hadn't used my card since Saturday evening and why would purchases post in the middle of the night? I started to get suspicious and got out of bed and ran downstairs to retrieve my card from my camera bag. When I couldn't find it, I walked out to my car to see if I accidentally misplaced it when returning it to my bag after eating on Saturday. Opening my door, it was easy to see that my car had been torn apart and not only was my credit card missing, but also gone was my trusty back-up camera. Evidently my card hadn't been placed in my bag after all, but somewhere between the bag and the passenger seat in my van.

Always Make Sure Your Gear Is Covered

I should have panicked, but I didn't. There was nothing I could do since both items were gone and I found comfort in knowing that all of my gear is covered by insurance. A quick phone call to my credit card company canceled my card, as well as began the process to get back the $100~ the thieves had spent in the middle of the night. Paypal did a fantastic job in sending out a new card quickly and returning the money to my account within days.

Having insurance on your gear, especially as a professional, is absolutely something you cannot go without. For years I have had an insurance and liability policy with State Farm Insurance. I also added what is often called an Inland Marine rider, which also covers my gear if I am just an idiot and drop my gear during a session, if it falls out of my bag when retrieving it from my car, etc. All the accidentals not usually covered by a basic gear policy. I pay less than $50 a month for added security and hey - a tax write off!

Helpful tip: Don't assume you're covered under your home owners policy. If you use your gear for your business, it most likely is not covered by your home owners insurance. I use USAA, and business gear is NOT covered. It's important to call and check with your insurer. Don't find out the hard way like others have.

Take Pictures of Your Gear and Record Your Serial Numbers

As far as the process to submit a claim to my insurance company, it's pretty straight forward. I have a deductible, and I report the gear that was stolen. While a receipt is helpful, even a simple photograph of my gear would have sufficed. No big long drawn out paperwork trail to recover what was mine.

While filing the police report, in one of the boxes I was asked to provide any serial numbers I had for my gear. Did you know that your camera body and lenses all have individual serial numbers? These numbers can be entered into a national database of stolen camera equipment. Pawn Shops are supposed to cross any items brought in against this list. Luckily, I had jotted down all of my serial numbers when I began the insurance process a few years ago. Having these numbers and an inventory of my gear in one place, on record, made recovering my gear that much easier. Yup - I recovered my stolen camera.

A Happy Ending

Just after finishing the police report (you'll need one of these if you plan on filing a claim with your insurance, if you plan to say the gear was stolen), I was on the phone with State Farm to begin filing my claim. I was talking to my local agent when I got a text message from my husband:

Whhhhaaatttt??? I immediately called my husband (who was at the gym) and as it turns out, all of our belongings were recovered earlier in the morning by our neighbor. At some point, whoever was breaking into cars must have gotten spooked because there were items left haphazardly in the street, piles of items were in the trees on the side of our house (as well as other individuals on our street) and our neighbors turned it over to the police. When they saw my post online, they put two and two together and realized the camera they found must have been mine. They didn't think much of it at the time, because they assumed I'd have had my gear in a nice bag, protected.... not thrown into the backseat and stored under cardigans. I'm still embarrassed by how wrong I did my 7000!

It took a few days of back and forth with the police to recover our items, which turned out to be so much more than just my camera. Amazingly, my camera and the 35mm lens attached to it were in perfect condition. I was so worried when I heard it had been "thrown" in the woods that maybe it had shattered or ruined the integrity of the mechanisms inside. I am so blessed that that was not the case. After retrieving my camera, I promised it that I would never be so insensitive to it again! Ha! It didn't deserve to be the ugly step child since I upgraded, after it had served me so well for so many years.

After a bit more detective work of my own and returning belongings recovered to my neighbors, we found that around 4:15AM when a neighbor was leaving for work, he witnessed a couple teenagers walking around carrying a bunch of items. Noticing how suspicious this looked, he called out to them and that is when they dropped the items and ran. My credit card was used just 15 minutes later at 3 different gas stations in the area.

The Moral of the Story

I am so incredibly lucky to have been able to recover my gear. I never anticipated this story having a happy ending. That said, I was grateful to know that I would have had options. It's so important to protect your business. We do it all the time with contracts, deposits, and making sure we're fairly compensated for our time as photographers. The list goes on. Not protecting the gear that provides our livelihood is just not smart business.

Please make sure your gear is covered. Ask questions - how am I covered if it's stolen? What if it's stolen from my vehicle? Is it covered if I drop it? What would I need to provide if I file a claim?

Second, it's important to keep an inventory of your gear. It's much easier to identify gear among hundreds if not thousands of recovered stolen property if you can identify it by more than its model or physical imperfections. Having serial numbers was a lifesaver for me and made recovering my gear from the police that much faster. Make sure you have serials for each body, each lens, each battery, etc.

And, as my Dad would say while giving me a dirty look and sharing his finger - LOCK YOUR CAR!