It's a scenario that unsettles most people; the loss or theft of your wallet or purse. Your ID cards, all your credit and debit cards, receipts, any number of other valuable documents, even pictures with sentimental value might be lost. While there's no way to completely protect oneself from the sting of such a loss, the best way to reduce such difficulty is to ensure that only the things you really need with you all the time are the things you carry, and to leave the rest at home. The difference between a temporary headache and a life-long issue can sometimes boil down to what you did or didn't have in that purse or wallet. Below are five things you should (almost) NEVER carry around in a purse or wallet:
- Social Security Card (or any piece of paper with the SSN written on it): This is one of the biggest mistakes, and generates many calls to the ITRC. Identity theft springing from a stolen social security card carried in a wallet or purse is among the most common ways people become victims. If you lose your wallet and the Social Security card was in it, unlike a credit or debit card, you cannot simply cancel the card and change the number. This number is what's known as a "unique identifier," meaning that number is unique to you, and only you, and cannot be changed in all but the rarest of cases. With that Social Security number and little else, a criminal can take over your identity, open new accounts in your name, work under your name, create new drivers licenses or state ids in other states, and on and on. Unless you have need of your Social Security card THAT DAY, do not carry your Social Security card around in your purse or wallet. This document, more than any other, changes the loss of a wallet from a temporary hurdle to a life of constant increased vigilance and paranoia.
- Birth Certificate: Possibly the only thing more damaging than losing a Social Security card is the loss of a birth certificate. Your certificate of live birth is the first and fundamental document issued by the government and it is the document from which all other documents spring. A birth certificate can get you a replacement Social Security card, a passport, a driver's license, and many other forms of identification, virtually anything. Since this document is considered by government and financial institutions as the bedrock identifying document, once a thief has possession of it, it is virtually impossible to prevent fraud. At that point, your only recourse is to try and clean up the mess after fraud has already occurred. This document is the single most destructive one in existence if it falls into the wrong hands. Obviously, something like this should never be carried around where it could be easily lost or stolen.
- Account and Routing Numbers: If you're not going to the bank today, why are you carrying around the account and routing number to your checking account? In the wrong hands these numbers can be used by a thief to clean you out, overdraw you, and leave you stuck with the financial loss. Unlike the loss of a check or credit card, simply canceling the card will not prevent a thief with access to your account numbers from making use of your account. One must actually close the account and open an entirely new one. In the interim, you will have to file a police report and dispute with the bank any fraudulent charges. You may get your money returned after the conclusion of an investigation, but in the mean time you no longer have access to your money. Avoid carrying these numbers around unless really necessary. If you do lose an account number, immediately set up a verbal password with your bank to protect against any unauthorized access to your account.
- Password Cheat Sheets: I know, in today's highly integrated electronic society, you might have as many as 10-12 passwords you need to remember for various accounts. More than you can probably remember on your own. To give yourself a little help, you wrote them down in one place you'll know to look in the event you can't remember one of them. Good trick, but DON'T leave it in your wallet. Even if the passwords aren't linked on paper to any particular account, it's a GREAT cheat sheet for any thief looking to do additional damage. Keep your password cheat sheet where it belongs, at home.Passports: A passport is the quintessential document necessary for international travel. This document, because it is government-issued is also useful in acquiring a new Social Security card, driver's license or state ID card, and can be used as an identifying document in acquiring a loan or opening a new credit account. Unless you're leaving the country today, leave that passport at home.
"5 Things You Should Never Carry in Your Wallet" was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to ITRC Blog.