Uneventul trip to “Race against time” in 10 minutes

Finally back home in Tokyo – and picking up the pieces. What was supposed to be an uneventful (and quick) trip to the US ended up suddenly turning into a race against time. I arrived in the US (San Francisco) on Thursday for a quick meeting and to return on Saturday on a 7:30pm flight (JL001) back to Tokyo. Since I had most of Saturday open, I thought I’d do a quick trip to Napa and buy some wines. However, before that, I decided to have lunch (1:15pm) at In-and-Out Burger (who wouldn’t). So I quickly parked the car, went inside, enjoyed my Double-Double and returned to the parking lot and my car.

When I arrived (1:30pm), I realized my rear passenger side window was broken. Initially, I wasn’t too worried assuming that the car next to me dinged my car and hit the window. Since “it’s a rental” and I had full coverage, I wasn’t too concerned. However, about a minute later, I realized that is where I kept my PC bag (yes, stupid me). I thought I was thinking a little by not putting it in the front passenger seat, but I guess it didn’t matter. Now yes, it was not my first time to experience theft like this – I travel so much that statistically, it is inevitable to have problems abroad. I’ve been a victim (twice) of pickpockets (all in Italy) but was always amazed (not pissed or angry per se) that I did not notice them at all. Last year, I had my brand new watch stolen because the wrist band wasn’t set correctly and I put it in my bag, which a bellman promptly took out of the bag while checked (just felt sad because I never really got to wear the watch). This time however, I got a bit (but seriously, only a little) angry because this bag which they took contained my laptop (old so didn’t care that much), my 3rd generation iPad (again, was going to upgrade soon), my Galaxy S4 cell phone (somewhat pissed because it has my eMoney and Yodobashi points plus I just finally removed all my bloatware without rooting!), my wallet (yes, cancelling a bunch of credit cards is a pain and losing cash is not fun), etc… However, what took this into a new level is that the bag also contained my Japanese passport to return to Japan (in a few hours!)


This entry is not for the purposes of feeling sorry for me. I just want to share my experiences so that anyone else who is in a similar situation can navigate and get out of such an unfortunate situation. I got really lucky to get this done as smoothly as it did – even if you don’t find yourself in a similar situation, being prepared is always a good idea. For me, this is “Unfortunate Situation v3.0” so next time (I don’t wish for it, but just in case), I hope to be even better prepared.

Anyway, the first thing I did was called 911. I felt bad because it wasn’t a “real” emergency. They answered quickly and gave me the number to the local police station. Unfortunately, that number was disconnected. Next, I used Siri to find the closes police station. Unfortunately, the 1st entry was also a disconnected number, but the second number worked. After reaching the police, I gave them my basic information and what happened. Incredibly, after only 10 minutes (1:45pm), two police officers came and helped assess the situation. They also spent about 45 minutes (in the rain no less) reviewing CCTV footage and canvasing the area. Unfortunately, nothing (but I wasn’t expecting miracles) – they mentioned that this area is often targeted by criminals during lunch hour, thus just because its crowded and highly traffic, that is no longer a deterrent to criminals (especially when we live in an age where no one reports anything anymore). They also mentioned that they take these bags, take what they want and dump it on the northbound lane of highway 101. Initially, I also tried to use the “Find my iPhone” feature, but stupid me turned off my iPad because it would have been considered roaming for me.

Next, I called Japan Airlines and was put on hold for 30 minutes (need to do something about that) and once I got on the line, was only told that 1) they couldn’t do anything (I knew that) and I should 2) call the Japanese consulate (they gave me the right number) in San Francisco but that it was impossible to get anything done before the 7:30pm flight – especially since the Consulate is closed on the weekend and there is no one to do anything until Monday.

Nevertheless, I still called the Consulate of Japan in San Francisco. Yes, the 1st recording you hear is that they are closed on the weekend and to come back on Monday. However, selecting the emergency option, I got a switchboard in Southern California to answer. They immediately told me that I have to come back on Monday to get a temporary passport issued. I told them that was unacceptable, explained my situation and to at least relay my message to the local staff. In the meantime, they were kind enough to tell me what things I have to prepare in order to apply for a temporary passport. This was:

  • Police report – Thank god I already started the process, but I knew I needed it for insurance purposes too.
  • 4.5cm x 3.5cm photo (which most photo places in the US don’t have so I took two sets of pictures offset to be larger and smaller than the US standard so that the Consulate won’t have any excuses on pictures (had that happen to me before)
  • Your (old, now just stolen) passport number – This is important, thank goodness I had this in my Blackberry.
  • Something to identify you – I didn’t have anything but usually this is a copy of your old passport, a copy of your insurance card. Luckily, in my case, they were okay with my California Driver’s license.
  • $30 fee

Eventually, the local Consul staff gave me a call (now 3:30pm) and I explained my situation again (plus that I HAD to be back in Japan by Monday). In this particular case, the person on duty (however, it was obvious he was calling from home) was VERY understanding and helpful and said he’ll see if he can get the office open for me and get back to me.

In the meantime, I realized I needed to get a full police report and all I had was a card with a case number on it. So when I called the police department, they said its too soon (it hadn’t been typed yet and needed approval) and I need to come back on Monday (what is with weekends?). Again, I explained my situation and the officer agreed to see what he can do. In the meantime, I went across the street from the police department to get my passport pictures taken.  Spending a little extra time tweaking the dimensions of the photo and receiving the photo’s uncut (very important since the US doesn’t have exact cutting specs – better leaving the cutting to the consular office).

By 4:15pm, the officer completed his very detailed report (4 pages!) of the incident and got his Sargent to immediately approve the report (which apparently usually doesn’t happen) and even waved the $12 fee! Talk about professionalism and courteous service. This was the highlight of my trip.

So, even without knowing the status of the Consulate, I now head towards their office in San Francisco. While driving up, I receive a call and am told that they were able to get a few people to help my situation out. It was actually hard to hear because a broken window is very noisy on the freeway, but I assumed that’s what they said. After arriving at 4:33pm, two consular employees were also arriving at the same time and they rushed me to the office. After filling a small mountain of paperwork in my bad Japanese penmanship, providing the passport photos, paid my $30 and provided the police report, they produced my temporary passport. (Funny, one of the employees mentioned how amazed he was at how calm I was… Apparently, that is usually not the case.) By 5:17pm, I was out of their office and heading to the airport. Now getting ready to explain the broken window to the car rental agency (again, having the police report helped in filing the accident report) all the while calling all my credit card companies to cancel my cards.


Luckily, I made my flight with about 10 minutes to spare. However, it was very weird to board a plane completely empty handed except for a police report and your temporary passport.

Moral of the story:

  1. If you have something that valuable, lock it in the trunk. I admit, I became too complacent with security and didn’t assume this kind of scenario. Literally, someone targeting the back of a car in a very busy parking lot, breaking the window (which doesn’t set off the car alarm) and grabbing you bag.
  2. Luckily, I had two wallets. My Japanese wallet (which was stolen with the bag) which has my Japanese credit cards, drivers license (uggghhh), health insurance hard (bigger ugghh), money, etc… My other wallet was my “US” wallet that had dollars and credit cards to use in the US.
  3. I lost my Japanese phone with the bag, but I had my iPhone on me. Thank god I also kept it fully charged because after all this, the battery died right as I boarded the plane. The modern smart phone is truly the Swiss Army knife of today.
  4. Unless you are in a tremendous rush, file a police report. This becomes important when you file everything from insurance claims to when you find out that certain credit card purchases which are subsequently stolen can be refunded.
  5. Most importantly, I think people genuinely want to help. Its also important not to panic, get hysterical and start blaming other people. If you calmly explain the situation and also understand their perspective and “negotiate” a solution, I realized anything is possible. This is a far cry from the initial Japan Airlines person saying it will be “impossible to leave today”.
  6. Miscellaneous: Thank goodness I had all my credit card numbers and their contact info (due to prior incitements). Made calling them to cancel the card easier. Should have noted the serial number for my PC and iPad but I don’t expect to recover them so no big deal.

Things I need to do because of this incident (probably the most pain in the ass part of all this – will update if I think of anything else):

  1. Pick-up car from the airport. My bag also had my car keys so I need to find the spare at home and get back to the airport later today
  2. Get new phone (and do all the requisite setup that we all do with new phones. Damn…)
  3. Double check that all my credit cards have been accounted for
  4. Go to the DMV and get a new drivers license
  5. Since my ATM card was also taken, I personally need to the bank to cancel and reissue. Obviously, this can only happen AFTER I get my new drivers license.
  6. Apply for a new Japanese passport – ASAP since I’m travelling again next week.
  7. Get a new health insurance card
  8. File an insurance claim. I religiously apply for the AIU overseas insurance because one broken leg or hospitalization would pay for its ~8,000 yen cost per trip.
  9. Cancel my iPad account (how do I do that???)
  10. Unlink Dropbox, iTunes and Kindle – My PC is totally secure with EFS and TPM, but just in case…
  11. Buy a new bag, wallet and business card holder

In the end, it is amazing how just 10 minutes will turn your life upside down. However, I realize I’m totally exaggerating as I realize how lucky I was at the same time. Of course, not having this happen to you is always best. But in the real world, things like this happen. In a different scenario, I could have been approached gunpoint or, if I finished my burger a few minutes earlier, I may have accidentally confronted them and done something stupid as well. All in all, this experience was really a wakeup moment for me to remind me that perhaps I was getting a little too lax. Nonetheless, it was also an interesting learning moment for me. Perhaps the thieves who stole my bag, made a bunch of gas station and supermarket purchases (all in a place called Union City which is 25 mile east of where the crime took place) with the card in the 1st few minutes will read this and comment….

[Update 1: The most difficult part of this journey was when I got home and didn’t have my house key (actually card). I rang the doorbell but my wife didn’t answer the door so I was stuck outside for about 45 minutes finding a way to get in….]

Posted by whsaito

  1. Pauline C. Reich May 22nd, 2014 at 08:40 AM

    I had a similar experience in a hotel restaurant near Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris on December 7, 2013. It’s now May 22- have still not been compensated by my Japanese travel insurer (Tokio Marine) and the French hotel and its insurer are stonewalling. Losses include 10 years of research on USB sticks and jewelry in excess of the former coverage.

    Just in case you have to go to Paris, be very careful about taking as little as possible.

    Also had a tough time replacing iPhone because my passport had been stolen. I had visitors arriving in Japan for an international symposium I was chairing two days after my return and it was their first visit to Japan. That took some heavy negotiations but was finally resolved because I had other Japanese government official documents at home.

    I had to borrow 500 Euros from a friend of a friend in Paris and could not get into my house the first night so incurred hotel expenses as well. Finally got my spare key from a friend the next day.

    These kinds of thefts are becoming more common in my circles of lawyers, professors and Information Security professionals. We need to come up with specific ways to stay safe while traveling with devices, data and intellectual property that has monetary and professional value for what we do. I am working on several articles about such security- you are welcome to contribute your ideas..


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William H. Saito