I've been asked by several people what we've learned from The Incident a few weeks back. What nugget of knowledge would I impart to people who wanted to make their homes and belongings a little bit safer? Whenever I get that question, I always reply with "Where do you want me to start?"

There are so many things I have to say on the matter that people start rolling their eyes when I respond. I'm sure you will too, so feel free to skip over what promises to be a very long post if you're into denial that the world is a horrible, mean place and the only philosophy of life you can deal with is: fire bad, tree pretty. For the more persistent among you, you can read the whole thing. Otherwise just skip down and click on the links... they never steer you wrong.

I think that now, after a month of dealing with banks, insurance companies, police and a veritable plethora of other people who seem to have some stake in my financial dealings with the world, I do have a few items that I would do differently if I could go back in time. And because I'm cool like dat, I will now share them with you. I have to say up front though, that none of the things I'm about to write would have kept my house from being burglarized if someone really, really, wanted to get in. Most would just have made it more of a nuisance for the burglars and made my life easier afterward. Most dishonest people are basically opportunists - they aren't going to go to a whole lot of trouble to take your crappy stuff. We're basically working class folks, so it's not like the dudes from The Italian Job are trying to steal my twenty-five inch television that weighs more than seventy-five pounds. My philosophy is if you make it too much trouble, the thieves will move onto someone else because whatever they're going to steal from me is probably only going to buy them a couple of nice meals.

The first thing that I realized I had done that was really smart, was at some point in the past, I had taken all the credit cards out of my wallet and xeroxed them. This helped me remember exactly what cards I needed to cancel and in quick order. Within an hour from getting home that night, I had every credit card that I could remember cancelled before any fraudulent charges were made. The thing that I had not been so smart about was that I hadn't kept that up to date and the list wasn't complete. So, three days later when I remembered a gas card that was stuck back in the back of my wallet that I never used and hadn't copied, I made a frantic dash for the phone and found that my friendly neighborhood burglar had been able to fill up his gas tank at least once. Fortunately, however, the company did not hold me responsible for that charge.

Get a police report number. I cannot count how many times I had to provide this information to someone. I seriously doubt that anyone, anywhere, looked it up to make sure it was genuine, but any time someone acted even remotely annoyed at what I was asking them to do in the wake of a burglary, I whipped out the "I have a police report number, would you like it?" no one even questioned me. I probably could have just made up the number.

We got an alarm system for the house about a year ago and I have been religiously setting it every time I leave the house. The alarm company gave us these key fobs that you could use once outside the house to set the alarm with a single touch of a button and not entering a code. The problem that morning was not that I forgot to set the alarm, but that I apparently didn't push the button hard enough or long enough or whatever. The alarm never got armed that morning. When I am outside the house with the door closed, as you need to be, I cannot hear the beeping confirmation inside the house that the alarm is set. We think the same culprit has attempted to break on to several neighbos' homes and because I've heard their experiences, I'm confident that if the alarm has gone off when they kicked in the door like it was supposed to, the burglars would have simply run off. It also occurred to me later that if my purse and keys were ever stolen, the thief would have my drivers license (which had my address on it), a key to my house, AND the key fob to turn off the alarm without entering a code. We've since put those key fobs away in the safe and only set the alarm using the code on the keypad.

I changed every password on every online account I ever had. Ones that I used to make purchases and/or had financial information first, but also any others I could think of. It would have been much easier to do this had I kept a list of them... but I tend to only use ones that I use regularly, so it was pretty easy to get through them all.

Since some financial information was on one of the computers that was taken, I went to the three major credit reporting agencies and put a fraud alert on our social security numbers to avoid identity theft. Now if anyone tries to open a new account or get a loan using our social security numbers, we will get a phone call to verify. I highly doubt that whoever has my computer is savvy enough to find that information on it, but better safe than sorry. This also forced me for the first time in years to look at my credit score... not as bad as I would have thought.

We replaced all the locks on all the doors in the house. Probably not because we had to. We don't think any keys were stolen and the lock on the basement door that was kicked in was usable. But we'd had that same key for years and weren't completely sure we still even had all the original keys. So we went to Lowes and spent about $60 on new knobs and deadbolts for each door in the house. The insurance agent actually questioned this and asked why we were asking for reimbursement for locks on four doors when only one was damaged."You could have just had a locksmith come out, after all." I explained, "Look, if you don't want to pay for that expense I get it, but even if we were sure that no keys were stolen, it was still cheaper to replace the locks on four doors ourselves than have a locksmith come out to re-key the one door that was damaged." She couldn't argue with that logic.

I did not know this before, but here's a bit of inside information: If you report a computer stolen to the police, they will not even ATTEMPT to look for it if you don't have the serial number and/or service tag number from the back of the machine. You also need that information for the insurance claim. At work, since I have to keep track of ten+ computers, I've gotten into the habit of making a small book sized box with the name of the computer on the outside. Then I put every manual and piece of paper that came with the computer in there for a time in the future when I might need it. I also put all the discs for the software installed on that machine in the box. They all sit on a bookshelf in my office. That way if I ever need to re-install the software, find a registration number, see the original paperwork etc., all I have to do is open up that box. The KoH follows the leave it on the kitchen table until the wife gets sick of looking at it and either throws it away or puts it in the shop, never to be seen again method of document storage. So while I found my serial number in about two seconds, The KingofHearts did not. It was only through an expense of many hours of phone calls, driving many miles and the happenstance that he'd taken his computer in for repair and they wrote down this number that we were able to retrieve it. I have since brought my anal retentiveness from the office to the home and when we got the new computers, I had the bright idea to stick them on the copy machine and simply xerox the service tag and serial number information on the back - that way I can never blame poor handwriting on my inability to get it correct. So now we have a box for each new computer and that xerox copy is in the box.

Another thing I didn't think about until I called the company to see if they could provide me with the serial number on The KoH's computer (they couldn't) was if you report your computer stolen to the company you purchased it from, Dell, or HP, for example, they will flag it as stolen. That way anyone trying to get service on the machine will be denied and they will report it to the police. Not that I think I'm gettin' my machines back, but I certainly don't want to make it any easier for the jerk that has my stolen machine to get even more from the deal by having someone help him/her use it.

We purchased a decent sized home safe for our valuables - about a $100 expense - and The KoH bolted it to the floor. Now things that aren't valuable enough to put in a safe deposit box, but we really don't want to see walk off, are in that safe. Boxes of checks, a stash of cash, extra keys to the house and car, the one piece of jewelry that was valuable to me and wasn't taken because I was wearing it at the time and all the xerox copies of the credit cards or any other financial information - basically stuff that I need occasionally and don't want to go to the bank to get it every time. Anything else: the deed to the house, car titles, wills, etc., remains in the safe deposit box at the bank... where we have a brand new box number because my key to the old one was in my wallet that was taken.

I have long since been smart enough to keep my pictures and personal data files on an external hard drive. The hard drive wasn't taken due to a combination of luck and laziness on the part of the burglars; it was in a drawer that they didn't open. So when the computer was taken, the only photos that we lost were duplicates of ones that were already on the external hard drive. I should have been smart enough to put the financial data information on that hard drive too. I did learn, however, that it probably would be a good idea to store that external hard drive in the safe from now on.

Insurance claim agents get really defensive if you leave a message with a colleague that ends up sounding like you've said I haven't heard anything from you in a week and I'm calling to find out what's up with my claim, you useless waste of space? Then when they call you back, you will have to stroke their ego a bit if you want some decent service from them in the future. I did not say that; it just ended up sounding like that on the message her office mate took. Choose your words carefully.

For the first couple of weeks after the burglary, we knew we'd be replacing every bank account and credit card we owned. And I knew that the banks and credit card companies would be sending all the replacement cards, checks, important things and whatnot information to our home address. And here's the thing: when someone's been inside your house, they know where you live. I knew that the burglars knew a bunch of shiny new credit cards and checkbooks would be coming in the mail too. So I took a bit of a preventative measure and had all our mail held at the post office on the day after the burglary for about a month until all our replacement checks and credit cards had arrived. The post office will perform this service for a period of up to three months and they were very cool about it when I explained the reason. Technically, you're only supposed to be able to pick up mail every three days if you want them to continue to hold your mail, but the people in our local Post Office were really nice about the whole thing and let me pick up mail pretty much as often as I want.

Obviously, though, holding the mail at the post office was only a temporary solution. I spent a modest sum of money on a locking mailbox for the future and we installed it forty-six to fifty-one inches above the street level, just like the Postal Service recommends. Now, I know that the simple act of putting a lock on a plastic mailbox isn't going to keep someone out of my mail if he/she really wants to get in... but a lock on my door didn't keep someone out of my house if he/she really wanted to get in either... so I'm just considering this an added level of defense. So there's that. That and the fact that the door on our old mailbox often used to just fall open to reveal everything sitting inside as if in invitation, "Hey, here's something that looks good, why don't you take this?" Now it will take more than two seconds and a quick hand to yank something out of the mailbox. Neighbors are likely to see that happening if someone has his arm in my mailbox up to his shoulder. I know there are more secure ways to handle this, like getting a PO Box at the post office. But here's a little secret you may not know about me: I'm lazy. Or maybe I've told you that before. I simply cannot expend the energy of trying to get the entire world to change my address and then go to the post office daily to pick up mail at a PO Box. I know my limits.

My life is pretty much lived on line these days and I had a number of automatic payments that keep me with a roof over my head. This has, by far, been the most frustrating, make you want to bang your head against the wall, part of the whole experience. The police, the insurance, the feeling of violation, the loss of stuff, all pale in comparison to trying to get all my creditors to apply a new account number to a automatic payment I've been making for years. I'm so not joking here. Here's something I learned: when you call to give different account numbers to the automatic payments, the best thing to do is cancel the old automatic payment completely. Then hang up the phone and call back and set up a new one. In Every. Single. One. of the automatic payments I have, I tried to just give the customer service dude the new account number since it was still the same bank, same routing numbers, and still a checking account. Seems logical, right? Every. Single. One. of those payments was screwed up in one way or another and I missed the payment that was due that month. I have spent way too much time trying to deal with this than if I'd just canceled the automatic debit and started a new one.

I that same vein... when your mortgage consultant cheerfully tells you, "Oh no problem, I just need your new account number and we'll re-post the payment," do not believe him. Because he is wrong. You will find out three weeks later, your payment still has not been made and now your account is in default, and only because you yourself notice that the payment hasn't cleared your account, not because anyone from the mortgage company thought to notify you. When you talk to the supervisor of the department she will say, "Oh that person gave you wrong information, we never do that," and when you ask, "When were you going to inform me?" she will say, "We never do that either." And then you will have to write an email to the mortgage company accusing them of trying to get you to default on your loan so they can foreclose on your house and no wonder everyone hates mortgage companies these days. And then they will ignore that email completely. Because they have bigger fish to fry.

You need to tell people to whom you have written checks before your bank account was closed (because your check ledger was taken too and you don't know which check number was which) that they should just not cash anything. Then they will ignore that, hold the check for two more weeks and then present it for payment on your closed account. Then get bitchy because your check bounced.

In that same order of things, you might think that since nine major banks and credit card companies were so accommodating with your sob story and made it relatively easy to arrange for a new payment to be made or to close the account, that it'd be that easy to deal with all your creditors. Never underestimate the power of day care providers to make something more complicated than it has to be.

Ultimately, while the whole thing opened a big can of Pain In Th'Ass, it has not robbed me of my good humor or belief that most people are basically good. When you are struck with just how easy it is to break into a home, the real surprise is that it doesn't happen more often... and that makes me feel good about the human race. Also, after having been through some of the events I have seen in my past, I tend to measure the BAD in my life by a much bigger yard stick than by whether or not I have to change the locks on my house or whether I have to make a bunch of nuisance calls to banks. Stuff is just stuff. The important things and people in my life are safe and sound and I choose to focus on that for the time being. Call me a Cockeyed Optimist.