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The Southern California Survival Guide

39 ways to cope with L.A.'s daily dangers

June 05, 2005|Andy Meisler | Andy Meisler's last story for the magazine was about Chuck Harris, an agent who represents unconventional performers.

Let's cut right to the cliche: Southern California is a land of eternal sunshine, with friendly, honest inhabitants and as many paths to good health, peace and prosperity as a Malibu Canyon health spa. But unless you've been living in an orgone box and your reading has been confined to antique Southern Pacific Railroad pamphlets, you know this to be as accurate as a major studio's balance sheet.

In point of socio-statistical fact, Southern California can be a treacherous place. According to a recent survey factoring rates of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft, California is the 10th most dangerous state in the nation. It's populated by shysters, muggers, gangsters, ragers and incompetent Range Rover repairpersons. True, we are not cursed with road salt, hurricanes, locusts, snow emergency routes, overcrowded subway trains, crooked aldermen, golf course alligators, chain gangs or humidity.

But in a place where even the sunshine that kisses the citrus can wreak havoc among the unwary, unheeding and skimpily clad, the ultimate aim of every prudent Southern Californian should be to calculate the risks, pry common sense from paranoia, and be ready to defend oneself at all times.

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IF SOMEONE STEALS YOUR ...

Cellphone The most important thing to remember: When you call your wireless carrier to inform them of your loss, ask them to suspend--got that? suspend--your account rather than deactivate it. "If your account is canceled you lose your phone number, and then it's given out randomly to another customer," says Verizon spokesman Ken Muche. Also, he adds, try to report the loss as soon as possible. After, say, 30 days or so, wireless providers get testy about swallowing $4,000 worth of purloined calls to Cartagena or Bangalore.

Identity The very worst thing to do, says Linda Foley, co-executive director of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego, is pull the covers over your head and pretend bad things won't happen. They will. Unless you prefer going bankrupt or being arrested for another person's crimes to running a difficult and emotionally draining gantlet, you need to move fast. If your wallet or Social Security card is stolen, if you notice strange charges and debits on your charge or bank accounts, if your checks or credit card purchases are mysteriously refused, you may be the victim of identity theft. The steps for dealing with each situation are too numerous and complicated to list, but you can go directly to www.idtheftcenter.org or call the ITRC at (858) 693-7935. The California Department of Consumer Affairs also will walk you through the odious process at www.privacyprotection.ca.gov.

Car Your worst move: Assume that you forgot where you parked your car last night, go back inside and plop two Alka-Seltzer tablets into a jelly glass. Your second worst: Dragoon a friend into driving you around the neighborhood hoping to locate it. Instead, notify the police immediately, even if it's just to learn that you walked home from the party or your illegally parked car was towed, says Det. Bob Graybill, head of the LAPD auto theft task force for the San Fernando Valley. "About 75% of cars are stolen by joyriders, and the rest go to chop shops or sit on the street to be vandalized," he says. "The faster you act the better the odds" that your car won't get chopped. Graybill adds that if your car is equipped with an electronic location device such as LoJack or OnStar, make that the first thing you mention to the police; it'll drive recovery of your car to the top of the cops' priority list. And, Graybill says, you surely couldn't have been so dense as to leave your wallet--or any document with your Social Security number--in the vehicle. If so, reread the listing for Identity Theft.

Mail Anyone who steals your mail is probably using it to steal your identity (see above)--and that's very bad. Your first step is to call or visit your local post office to determine if there's an internal mix-up, or if some special someone has forged a vacation hold or change of address form in your name. If that doesn't clear things up, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Its local office is in Pasadena; call (626) 405-1200 or (800) 729-3324.

Screenplay Naturally, you've registered your script with the Writers Guild of America, and written a date-stamped memo for your files every time you've taken a meeting about it with a producer. Heard that Bjork and Adam Sandler are on a project that sounds awfully familiar? Your next act is to hire an attorney who specializes in plagiarism. "If he takes it on contingency," says Cheryl Rhoden, a WGA assistant executive director, "you know you've got a good case."

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IF YOU'RE ATTACKED BY A ...

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