Just because your purse or wallet is lost or stolen doesn’t mean your identity has to be
Unfortunately, we live in a world where identity theft is rampant. It is all too easy for thieves and hackers to take a small amount of vital information, and, after some phishing, turn it into a lot of hurt for the victim. However, there are ways for you to make it harder on those identity thieves who earn their living by swiping unsuspecting consumers’ wallets or handbags. By simply ensuring that you remove eight critical items from your wallet, you will be able to breathe just a little bit easier if it is lost or stolen.
Social Security card - That little nine-digit number is all a criminal needs to open up a world of hurt on your credit score. Therefore, remove that identification card as soon as possible, and then look for anything else in your wallet that has your SSN on it. This may include insurance or Medicare cards and driver’s licenses issued before December of 2005. In lieu of a retiree carrying around his or her Medicare card, photocopy both sides and black out the SSN. You can then supplement your Social Security card in the event it is needed, like for pre-scheduled appointments, for example.
For those with older photo IDs, you can request a new card prior to the expiration date for just a small fee. It might be inconvenient, but consider the alternative.
Passport - Carrying any government-issued photo ID is a risk for identity theft. With a passport, thieves could travel in your name, open bank accounts or even obtain a new copy of your Social Security card. Simply travel with your driver’s license or personal ID when traveling domestically. When visiting overseas, Emily Inverso of Kiplinger Personal Finance suggests photocopying your passport and leaving the original in a hotel safe or lockbox.
Checkbook - Inverso says, “Blank checks are an obvious risk — an easy way for thieves to quickly withdraw money from your checking account.” However, did you know that even lost checks that have already been filled out are a hazard? Anything with your routing and account numbers are ammunition for criminals. Furthermore, only carry paper checks with you when you know you will need them, and only bring the exact amount you anticipate needing at that time.
Receipts - Similarly, resourceful identity thieves can easily scrounge up credit, debit and account information from the few numbers still allowed to be printed on retail receipts by law. All it takes is the last four or five digits and some merchant information to phish for the remaining data, and most delinquents will not shy away from putting in the extra effort. To avoid this happening to you, do keep all your receipts in one spot, in case of lost or stolen packages, but clear out the stash each time you return home, and then shred the ones you do not need to keep.
PIN/password cheat sheets - Personal identification numbers are just as helpful to thieves or hackers who want to steal your identity. With just that information, these criminals can easily dig up complete account information.
Additionally, the average American uses at least seven different passwords, according to Inverso, which should each ideally be a unique combination of letters, numbers and symbols. With that in mind, it’s only human that we need a reference sheet for this information, right?
That may be true, but just be sure not to bring your password and PIN list with you in your wallet. Keep the cheat sheets in a lockbox at home, or invest in an encrypted mobile app such as SplashID or Password Safe Pro.
Multiple debit or credit cards - The logic behind this recommendation is quite simple. The fewer cards in your wallet, the fewer you will have to call and cancel if and when it gets lost or stolen. Inverso recommends carrying a single card regularly in case of emergency and maybe one more when you plan to do heavy spending — filling up on gas, buying groceries or checking items off your holiday gift list.
Also, maintain a list with the phone numbers to call for cancelation in the event of theft or loss and keep it in a safe place. The numbers are conveniently listed for you on the back of the credit/debit cards, but that doesn’t help you when your card is gone.
Birth certificate - This document in and of itself will not tell a thief too much, but when used in conjunction with other types of (potentially stolen) identification, they often have the same capabilities of a Social Security card or passport.
Spare keys - With access to your home address, which can likely be found on multiple items inside your bag, and a key, criminals can steal a lot more than just your identity. Don’t put your property and family at risk, and don’t spend hundreds of dollars to change your locks. Instead, keep spare house keys with a trusted friend or neighbor.
The same goes with spare car keys. First, an extra car key will do you no good if you are one of the many people who tend to forget their wallets inside their locked cars. Second, most key fobs these days have the alarm function built in so anyone who stumbles upon a random car key can identify the car to which it belongs, enter and drive away. Be wary of valet parking as well, as the information and property one can find in your car is a whole new story.
After reading this, and then promptly removing any of the above eight items from your wallet or purse, take a moment to photocopy both sides of everything left inside and put the copies in a safe place. As Inverso avowed, “The last thing you want to be wondering as you're reporting a stolen wallet is, ‘What exactly did I have in there?’”
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