A Little Help From My Friends

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What I Learned From A Theft

by
Cris J. Duncan
Texas School Instructor

It is a gut wrenching feeling. You return to your home, office, or car only to discover that you are a victim of a theft. All the items you have worked hard to acquire are gone in an instant with little to no chance of recovery. Believe me, this really sucks. Unfortunately, theft is becoming more and more common and it has become a question of when, not if, it will happen to you. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) there were more than 450,000 reported larceny thefts in 2021 with total value exceeding $1.2 billon. Less than 7% of that is recovered.

In December of 2022, we were victims of theft while working out of town on assignment. Just hours before a session, everything in our rental car, from the camera to the toothbrush, was taken. I would like to share what we learned from this experience and the things that you should know to protect yourself and be best prepared. Keep in mind, if someone wants it, they will get it. While there are deterrents and protective measures, nothing is 100% effective from stopping evil people from doing evil things, and in no way is this list inclusive.

1. Keep a record of the equipment you own. I was good at this. I kept a very detailed spreadsheet listing all the studio equipment (cameras, lenses, lights, computers, etc.) we own. This spreadsheet has the model name, purchase price, and serial number. I thought this was enough. However, you will also want to keep the receipts of these items to prove purchase as well as the date of purchase. More on this later. In addition, it is also a good idea to register your items with the manufacturer. For example, if you are a Canon user, register items with Canon CPS.

2. Have Insurance. Yes, this seems obvious. However, there are some things you should be aware of. If you are a registered business, your homeowner’s policy will most likely NOT cover your gear. You will need a separate policy for your gear. If you are a member of the Professional Photographers of America, you have $15,000 of gear insurance included with your membership. However, you must opt-in. It is not automatic. Go to ppa.com and log in. Under “My Benefits” select “My Photo Care” and make sure you are enrolled. If you need more that $15,000, special arrangements can be made.

3. Traveling Awareness. We learned this the hard way. We had flown to Houston for a client session and had rented a car. We were to meet some friends for dinner so we drove to the restaurant. Upon arrival, I opened the trunk, got some items from my bag, placed other bags in the trunk, shut it, and walked away. That was the last we saw of our belongings.

According to the Sheriff, we were most likely targeted and watched. Why us? Our rental car had New York plates. New York plates stand out in Texas. We were informed that thieves target vehicles with plates from states that seem out of place because it is most likely someone traveling who tends to have items with them. The sheriff went on to say that they may have followed us upon spotting the plates. That was a little scary to hear. When I opened the trunk, their suspicions were confirmed. This car contained the motherload. I say this not to scare, but rather to inform you so you can be better prepared when you travel.

4. Be Connected. This really is number one. As sickening as it is to experience a theft, it is so much easier to digest when you know that your people have your back! Within minutes of our unfortunate incident, we had scores of offers from people all over the state ready to step in and loan us gear, offer assistance, pray, and just let us know that they cared. We were even more humbled to discover that after the word of insurance denying our claim, a GoFundMe was set up, and we were blessed to receive donations to help us recover much of the cost to assist in replacing our gear.

Our amazing friends, Robin and Jennifer Janson, stepped up and loaned us all the gear we needed to complete our session. They offered us luggage, toiletries, food, medicine, and a place to stay. They helped with the resetting of our passwords since a laptop was taken as well and even stayed up with us as we met with the Sheriff’s department.

If it were not for TPPA and our involvement, we would have had to face this event alone. Even after the session and we returned home, the outpouring of support from our photographer family was incredible. I hope we do not need to repay the favor but please know that we, along with so many, are ready to reciprocate.

5. Finally, buy your gear from vendors who know you and care for you. In our case, this was Bill and Angela Porter, from Arlington Camera. If you recall, I said I was pretty good at keeping a spreadsheet. That’s true. What I was NOT good at was keeping receipts and purchase dates.

Thankfully, Bill Porter and his Arlington Camera team were on the case. Within a few days, not only did I have replacement gear sent to me, I had receipts to present to insurance… all because Arlington Camera cared. They cared about us. They cared about the industry. We were not just customers but friends who needed help.

Your relationship with your vendors is crucial and our relationship with the Porters is one of the true benefits of belonging to an association like TPPA. Once the shock wore off, we knew we were okay. Thank you Robin, Jennifer, Bill, Melanie, Angela, and the scores of others who offered to help and support us. They, and others like them, are what makes TPPA great, and the love we have for them is something that no one can take from us.