Violated. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think about my engagement ring in the hands of a criminal on our moving crew. Or on display at a slimy pawn shop somewhere. The ring was a symbol of love and loyalty. There was a time I could gaze into the shiny little diamonds and have clarity. Now the thought of my ring sends a rush of stress and sadness through my body.
Dashed with my Diamond
Everything was in motion for our move from Naval Station Newport, Newport RI to Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado Springs, CO last summer. The moving company sent six employees to load our belongings in crates after two days of packing. We lived in a historic mansion with four levels. Boxes, wrapping paper and tape filled the rooms and hallways. My husband, my uncle and I constantly went up and down the stairs to monitor and direct the chaotic pack-out.
The master bedroom door was closed. The movers were told not to enter. Inside, sheets, blankets and pillows, once placed on the floor for sleeping, were covering luggage that contained our personal, valuable, and irreplaceable items, which we intended to keep with us and personally transport to our new duty station. My ring was tucked away in a leather pouch at the bottom of a bag full of cosmetics.
The movers left in loaded trucks late afternoon, stating that they were taking our household goods to a warehouse to crate for shipment. About an hour and a half after the movers left, I went into the bedroom and discovered that the blankets had been removed from the luggage, and the luggage had been unzipped, opened and torn apart. My yellow gold and diamond engagement ring was missing, as well as several other items of jewelry, and two of my husband’s valuable items. I remember my hands shaking uncontrollably and I immediately called the police. Notably, the investigation revealed that one of the movers on the pack-out crew was a convicted felon (larceny & theft). And by the time police arrived at the warehouse address, the crew was gone. The moving company has refused to communicate with us since the incident. No arrests have been made and the police investigation will remain active until the stolen items are found. The police investigator told us that it rarely ever happens. Arpin Van Lines of Rhode Island, the company that was hired to go into my home, remains under contract to move military families. I reached out to the owner for a statement and he never responded.
A Few Days Later
A social media post from my dear friend and fellow USMC spouse caught my attention. “Untethered,” she wrote “Six suitcases were stolen the night before we leave for Japan. It feels scary and sad and just plain hard.”
Karen Watson, her husband, and their three children had packed their belongings in Virginia and traveled to see family in Seattle before heading to Okinawa.
“We had a total of 12 bags with us. All carefully packed, with lots of thought put into what we would need during our travels as well as once we arrived in Japan since the rest of our belongings wouldn’t arrive for weeks or months. These were either the belongings we needed most immediately, or were so valuable we wanted to keep them with us (including hard drives, jewelry, cameras and paperwork – irreplaceable things).”
Karen remembers it was an ordeal to get into the hotel but they felt like the parking garage was secure. “They had to show a key to a hotel employee in order to get in,” she explains. “Honestly, after an exhausting few weeks we didn’t put a lot of thought into dragging all the extra bags into our room. We have had a car full of bags parked in so many open lots over the course of many cross country moves, and never once have we been broken into.”
The next morning, the windows were shattered and the car was empty. All of the bags but one were gone. “Honestly it still makes me feel sick to my stomach to think about it,” she said. It was such a terrible feeling. It was hard to understand why it had happened, and I went from crying to just feeling numb to being angry.”
The Watsons’ flights were delayed for about 48 hours. During that time, they filed a police report and led family members in a campaign to help find the bags on social media. They came up short.
“As I listened to fellow passengers complaining about the inconvenience of being delayed I kept thinking – if you only knew what our family has already gone through,” Karen said.
My friend Karen and I aren’t alone. We both reached out to social media in desperation and discovered PCS Like a Pro – Your Smooth Move, created by Megan Harless, a master of military moves. The stories of theft on the Facebook forum are endless. Harless says in her experience theft is very common during PCS peak season and she’s seen it happen in all sorts of scenarios. “Oftentimes it is hard to prove when and where it happened,” she said. But always file a police report first.”
She also suggests if you notice something is “missing” during your pack-out to “call an inspector to come out to your home while the crew is still there.” Harless says thieves are less likely to strike on the road if you are staying at a national name-brand hotel. “Things happen when you sleep at night. If you can, stay outside of a major city. And park your car or Uhaul next to security cameras onsite.”
Experts say your best mode of PCS protection is to invest in a valued personal property policy that could cover items such as engagement rings, guns, or artwork. Policies that provide coverage for your property — renters or homeowners —have limits or caps based on the type or category of property. Joseph Montanaro, CFP, of USAA recommends, “people start by doing an inventory. Matching that inventory to the details and limitations of your existing coverage should help identify gaps.”
I’ll admit we designated a policy a decade ago and haven’t looked back. Unfortunately, we didn’t have individual coverage on my ring or other high-value jewels. We received a check for $1,000.
Montanaro also says “It’s important to ensure your coverage keeps pace with your life. The property you have and the appropriate insurance protection probably looks a lot different at 41 then it did at 21. We tend to add stuff over time.”
Thankfully, Karen says “insurance did reimburse us for most of our claim, which was, of course, wonderful, but most of the things that we are missing are the irreplaceable things.”
Happily Ever After
For the past six months, I have spent countless hours emailing, calling, begging for help – my last stop was the Department of Navy Office of the Judge Advocate General Personnel Claims Unit in Norfolk. We received a letter asking for us to provide “an accurate inventory number” for our goods. The letter made me doubt anyone took the time to read the notes attached to our claim. The stolen items were never inventoried because they weren’t supposed to be touched by movers.
Eventually, I spoke with a supervisor at this office. She suggested I go to small claims court. Attorney fees would be so costly – it wouldn’t be worth it. So my story ends with sharing my loss to prevent it from happening to a fellow military family. Criminals are out there preying on us- Aprin Van Lines of Rhode Island, the company that was hired to go into my home is currently under contract to move military families. I reached out to the owner for a statement and he never responded.
As for Karen, “there are still many days where I am saddened about what we lost. Either I will be looking for something and then remember, oh yeah that was stolen, or just looking down at my hand and missing my wedding ring.”