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Identity Theft and Your Wallet—7 Items to Purge Now

Find out what should never be in your wallet or purse.

By
Laura Adams, MBA,
July 16, 2014
Episode #291

Identity Theft and Your Wallet—7 Items to Purge Now

Have you ever thought about what would happen if your wallet or purse fell into the wrong hands?

If you’re like most people, you’re carrying around a treasure trove of confidential information that could be used against you. Instead of putting yourself at risk for identity theft, purge 7 things from your wallet and move them to a safe place!

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What is Identity Theft?

You probably know that identity theft occurs when a criminal takes personal information—like your name, Social Security number, birth date, or mother’s maiden name—and uses it to commit fraud. More than 11.6 million adults were the victims of identity theft in the U.S. in 2011, according to a report from Javelin.

Once a thief has your confidential data, here are a few crimes he or she could commit: 

  • drain your bank accounts

  • make charges on your existing credit accounts

  • open new credit accounts

  • get a driver’s license

  • buy a car

  • rent an apartment

  • get a cell phone

Criminals have even been caught using stolen information to file fraudulent tax returns, make bogus medical insurance claims, and assume a victim’s identity when arrested!

So the worst case of identity theft could cause you to be arrested for a crime you didn’t commit. But it’s more common to end up with a botched credit report. Having bad credit doesn’t land you in the slammer, but it does mean that you could be turned down for a credit card, loan, job, or a place to rent.

The best way to make sure that you haven’t become a fraud victim is to check your credit report. I created the Credit Score Survival Kit to show you step-by-step how to check your credit report, correct errors, and even get your credit score for free! The Credit Score Survival Kit is your free gift when you click here.

How to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft costs victims money and many frustrating hours reporting the theft, disputing fraudulent transactions, cleaning up credit reports, and clearing their good names. Because the repercussions of identity theft can be so serious, it’s really important to reduce your chances of becoming a victim.

Related Content: 7 Steps to Check and Correct Your Credit Report

Here’s where to start: Be very cautious about what you carry around. Never take any confidential information with you that isn’t absolutely necessary. Inventory what’s in your wallet and remove the following 7 items:

Item #1: Social Security card

Your Social Security number is the cornerstone to your identity, so carrying the card or a photocopy of it in your wallet is a big no-no. You only need to show your Social Security card in very limited situations, like when completing paperwork for a new job.

So memorize your Social Security number and keep the card in a locked, fireproof filing cabinet or bank safe deposit box instead of risking it falling into the hands of a criminal.

Item #2: Documents with your Social Security number

Don’t forget that your Social Security number could be on other documents in your wallet—like a Medicare or health insurance card.

However, it’s easy to carry the information on these cards without revealing your Social Security number. Simply make a copy of the card, black out your Social Security number, and carry the copy instead.

Item #3: Multiple credit cards

The average consumer has 3 to 4 credit cards—but that doesn’t mean you need to carry all of them. Pare down your wallet to 1 or 2 cards that you really need for everyday spending. There’s no need to risk having all your credit cards stolen.

Related Content: How to Stay Safe from Debit and Credit Card Fraud

Item #4: Password cheat sheet

Online passwords are tricky because you should change them frequently and good ones are hard to remember. But carrying a password cheat sheet in your wallet or purse is a really bad idea.

When a thief has your passwords, your online identity could easily be compromised. So leave the cheat sheet in a locked drawer or filing cabinet instead. Check out Tech Talker’s easy advice on How to Create and Manage Strong Passwords.

Item #5: Safe deposit box key

Having a bank safe deposit box for your valuables and confidential documents is a great idea—but never carry the key unless you’re on the way to access the box.

If the key were lost or stolen, a criminal could use other information in your wallet—like a bank-issued credit card or driver’s license—to convince a vault manager that they’re you to open up the box and steal your valuables.

Item #6: Debit card PIN

If you use a debit card, never write the personal identification number (PIN) on the card or carry it with the card.

If a thief gets your debit card and the access code, they could drain your bank account in seconds. This is another number that you just need to memorize in order to stay safe.

Related Content: The Pros and Cons of Using Debit Cards

Item #7: Paper checks

If you’re still carrying and writing paper checks, consider using a debit or check card instead. The problem with paper checks is that they reveal your bank account number and are very easy to counterfeit. Even one stolen check could be copied many times and be used to quickly deplete your account.

Where to Keep Personal Documents

It’s a good idea to make copies of the items you do carry so you’ll have a reference in case your wallet is stolen. Keep the copies in a watertight plastic bag in a fireproof cabinet or bank safe deposit box.

However, remember that banks aren’t open 24 hours a day. So always keep the originals of emergency documents—like your Will and medical directives—in a safe place at home.

Being smart about what’s in your wallet will go a long way toward making you less likely to become a victim of identity theft. The bottom line is that you should only carry what you really need and leave everything else in a safe place.

More Articles and Resources You Might Like:

8 Tips for Identity Theft Protection

How to Prevent Child Identity Theft

5 Tips to Simplify Your Personal Finances

Credit Score Survival Kit – a free multimedia tutorial to build your credit!

Have money questions or comments? Send them to money@quickanddirtytips.com.

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Lost wallet photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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