Tactics like check washing, stealing mail, and snatching wallets or driver’s licenses can still lead a thief to your information and your finances.

News headlines are filled with stories about recording-setting data breaches, hacking events, stolen personal information, and cybercrime on a daily basis, but that does not mean the “old school” methods of stealing your information and fraud are gone. One recent case involved a smashed car window and a stolen purse. A thief in Nashvillebroke into a car and stole the driver’s purse which had been hidden under the passenger seat. Approximately six months later, fraudulent charges began to appear on the victim’s accounts.

This is by far not the first or even the most lucrative incident of its kind. Data breaches have occurred through stolen laptops that didn’t have encrypted password security, lost or missing flash drives containing patient records, backpacks or briefcases that were placed at the owner’s feet for only a second, and more.

In each instance, whether the missing information was ever used for identity theft, the owner must treat the loss as though it could allow a thief to cause further harm. If your physical property like a purse, briefcase, wallet, or checkbook is ever lost or stolen, there are some steps you should take:

1. File a police report to alert law enforcement to the original theft

While reporting the loss of the physical objects, make sure you take into account the individual items that were in your bag. These might be debit or credit cards, your driver’s license, membership or rewards cards, or a checkbook.

2. Contact your financial institutions immediately

You may need to provide them with a copy of the police report or at least a case number, but it’s important to inform all of the issuing banks. Your cards will be canceled and new cards sent to you.

3. Monitor your account statements

In the case of the stolen purse, there was a lengthy gap before strange activity began to show up. Just because your accounts aren’t impacted the next day, that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. Look at your account statements very carefully—something you should be doing anyway since it alerts you to errors or inconsistencies—and order copies of your credit report after the fact.

4. NEVER carry your Social Security card

The only time you should need to supply the physical card will be for very limited purposes, like accepting a new job after applying. There’s no reason to carry your card on a regular basis, and a thief could use it against you.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the original crime was a once and done event; just because there are highly sophisticated ways that cybercriminals can target you, that doesn’t mean someone can’t still take advantage of your information by stealing it.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.