I just had my purse snatched in the elevator of Mazza Gallerie.

The mall was busy; it was mid-Saturday afternoon. I had run into Neiman-Marcus for a birthday present, an errand that couldn't have taken more than 20 minutes.

I got on the elevator with an elderly handicapped couple who slowly disembarked at the first-floor parking garage. I remained on the elevator, headed for the second floor with a mid-30ish couple and their two male companions. They seemed unsure of which floor they had parked on. She leaned past me to press floor 3; the others stood behind me and close to my left side. As I stepped off the elevator at second, I could feel my handbag being torn from one hand as I gripped my package with the other.

The door closed and there I stood. Purseless. How quickly it happened. In anger and frustration, I searched around me to make sure I wasn't imagining things, that my purse really had been snatched. I took the adjacent elevator to the third floor to see if I could find the thieves, I retraced my steps off the elevator to the second floor; I combed the floors of both elevators, even though I was sure the theives by now were off somewhere sifting through my purse's contents. I dug through the trash cans on garage floors 2 and 3, as other shoppers stared. My hope was that the theives wanted only my $50, and not all those cards proving my identity. . . .

In view of all the violent crime these days, I was lucky. But nevertheless, I am enraged and feel, what can I say? violated.

I've called seven credit-card companies, answered bored questions from security officers ("Christmas was worse!"), taken off work to wait for a locksmith to change all locks, replaced my car keys, driver's license and registration card. Gone are my work ID, library card, wedding photo, cleaners' receipts, prescriptions and small, irreplaceable mementos. In short, everything that identifies me.

And after I explained my plight to a uniformed officer at the Department of Motor Vehicles, she retorted: "Well, I still need to know you are who you say you are; prove it!"

I know now why two of my friends are obessed with avoiding elevators and indoor garages. Other women out there: Learn from me what police and security people keep telling us:

1. Separate your credit cards and money. Take only those credit cards you are going to use that shopping day.

2. Record all credit-card numbers.

3. Buy a purse that zips shut and carry it under your arm or across your chest. Do not let it hang by your side.

4. Be aware. Look around before entering an elevator or car. Be suspicious. The thief does not have to arrive through the ceiling of an elevator. He/she may be standing beside you.

5. Move away from strangers. Stand near an elevator's door, if possible, not near the sides or rear.

6. Don't be fooled by looks. Pickpockets and purse snatchers can be any size, shape, and color. And they can clear in a minute what it takes you all day (or week) to earn.