Clean Out Your Wallet, Decrease Risk of Identity Theft
I’m always surprised by the random things I come across when organizing my handbag. Outdated business cards, taxi receipts from a previous vacation, scraps of paper with unrecognizable phone numbers scribbled on them. For the most part, I end up throwing all these things out to save room for more important items that actually belong in my wallet. This brings up the question, what actually does belong in your wallet?
Many of the items in there contain valuable, personal information that could have damaging effects on your finances if they were to get into the wrong hands. With identity theft and fraud a growing threat to consumers, it is important to take proactive steps to protect yourself, and a good place to start is by cleaning out your wallet. Chances are there are some things in there that don’t need to be. Let’s discuss what they are.
One of the biggest hurdles an ID thief has to overcome is getting documentation with valid image verification on it. The government-issued photo used in a passport is just what they’re looking for. With this, the thief can get a new copy of your Social Security card, leave the state or country as “you” and/or open new accounts under your name or clear out your existing ones.
Solution: When traveling within the US, a passport isn’t necessary to have on you at all times; in most cases, a driver’s license or other form of photo ID will suffice. Even if you’re traveling abroad, carrying your passport around isn’t necessary. Unless you’re crossing a border, store your actual passport in the hotel safe and only keep a photocopy on your person.
These days, more and more people are opting to store their password information in a safe password storage program on their computers or as an app on their tablet or phones. (Click here to learn about ID theft scams on your phone.) There are, however, still those people who have not made the shift to virtual password safekeeping and carry this information on a piece of paper in their wallets. The potential for damage here is obvious. If your wallet is stolen, not only does the thief now have your debit and credit card, but they have your PIN number and bank account login info too. Not good.
Solution: As I mentioned before, online or virtual password storage is becoming the preferred method for safekeeping this information, but if you’re hesitant to keep this information in the cyber world, store your password cheat sheet in a locked box in a secure place at home. (Click here to learn how you can protect yourself from online hackers and identity thieves.)
A seemingly innocuous document in the context of theft, a birth certificate can actually be very helpul to a thief when used with other forms of false identification documents . When accompanying fake documents, a real government-issued document like a birth certificate can lend authenticity to a fraudulent transaction.
Solution: This one is simple. Just don’t carry it in your wallet. If the occasion calls for you to present your birth certificate (changing your name, filing for a passport) make sure that you do not leave it anywhere where it can be stolen (i.e. your car, an unattended customer service desk etc.)
The power of a blank check speaks for itself. You don’t want to give thieves the ability to write themselves a check that is attached to your bank account for whatever amount they desire. And it doesn’t even have to be a blank check; thieves can use checks that have already been filled out to transfer money electronically from your account. All they need is the routing and account numbers found on your check.
Solution: Leave the checkbook at home and only carry checks on you when you know you will be using them that day for a specific purpose. And fill them out to the best of your ability prior to leaving home with them.
Although receipts only contain a portion of your credit or debit card number, in some case this is enough information for a skilled thief to figure out the remaining numbers through a variety of ID theft techniques.
Solution: Make a habit of cleaning out your wallet of receipts on a regular weekly (or better yet, daily) basis, destroying the ones you don’t need and filing the ones you need to keep in a secure storage cabinet at home or work. Again, there are apps available that can help you with the organization process.
On it’s a own, a spare key might not mean much to a thief, but when it comes with a wallet that contains identification listing your home address (i.e. your driver’s license) thieves are basically being escorted to your front door on a red carpet. A home invasion can be even more of a personal violation then ID theft because the physical safety of your family and home is also at risk.
Solution: Hide-a-keys are an inexpensive alternative to the locksmith fees you would pay if you lost your spare key in your wallet. Or, if you don’t feel comfortable keeping a spare on-site, leave a copy with a dependable relative or family friend.
Mackenzie Maher graduated in 2010 from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a BA in Global Studies and a minor in Professional Writing, with an editing emphasis. Mackenzie’s diverse portfolio also includes writing, editing, photography, and documentary script writing on such subjects as travel, career, and finance. Next to writing, she is most passionate about world travel (she has visited 24 countries).
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