That overstuffed wallet of yours can’t be comfortable to sit on. It’s probably even too clunky to lug around in a purse, too.
And with every new bank slip that bulges from the seams, your personal information is getting less and less safe. With just your name and Social Security number, identity thieves can open new credit accounts and make costly purchases in your name. If they can get their hands on (and doctor) a government-issued photo ID of yours, they can do even more damage, such as opening new bank accounts. These days, con artists are even profiting from tax-return fraud and health-care fraud, all with stolen IDs.
We talked with consumer-protection advocates to identify the eight things you should purge from your wallet immediately to limit your risk in case your wallet is lost or stolen.
And when you’re finished removing your wallet’s biggest information leaks, take a moment to photocopy everything you’ve left inside, front and back. Stash the copies in a secure location at home or in a safe-deposit box. The last thing you want to be wondering as you’re reporting a stolen wallet is, “What exactly did I have in there?”
- Your Social Security Card…and anything with the number on it.
Your nine-digit Social Security number is all a savvy ID thief needs to open new credit card accounts or loans in your name. ID-theft experts say your Social Security card is the absolute worst item to carry around.
Once you’ve removed your card, look for anything else that may contain your SSN. As of December 2005, states can no longer display your SSN on newly issued driver’s licenses, state ID cards and motor-vehicle registrations. If you still have an older photo ID, request a new card prior to the expiration date. There might be an additional fee, but it’s worth it to protect your identity.
Retirees, double check your Medicare card, too: If it was issued before April, 2015, it has your SSN on it.
Instead: Photocopy your Medicare card (front and back) and carry it with you instead of your real card. Experts are torn when it comes to blacking out a portion of your Social Security number on the copy, so to be safe, black out all nine digits. If an appointment requires the full SSN, you can then provide it as needed.
- Password Cheat Sheet
The average American uses at least seven different passwords (and probably should use even more to avoid repeating them on multiple sites/accounts). Ideally, each of those passwords should be a unique combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and you should change them regularly. Is it any wonder we need help keeping track of them all?
However, carrying your ATM card’s PIN number and a collection of passwords (especially those for online access to banking and investment accounts) on a scrap of paper in your wallet is a prescription for financial disaster.
Instead: If you have to keep passwords jotted down somewhere, keep them in a locked box in your house. Or consider an encrypted mobile app, such as SplashID (free or $1.99 monthly for Pro), Password Safe Pro ($19.95, Android only) or Pocket (free, Android only).
- Spare Key
A lost wallet containing your home address (likely found on your driver’s license or other items) and a spare key is an invitation for burglars to do far more harm than just opening a credit card in your name. Don’t put your property and family at risk. (And even if your home isn’t robbed after losing a spare key, you’ll likely spend $100+ in locksmith fees to change the locks for peace of mind.)
And, speaking of keys, be careful what you hand to the valet, warns Adam Levin, chairman and cofounder of Identity Theft 911. “Remember that every time you stop and hand your key to a valet, depending on what’s in the glove box [or trunk], you are making yourself vulnerable.”
Instead: Keep your spare keys with a trusted relative or friend. If you’re ever locked out, it may take a little bit longer to retrieve your backup key, but that’s a relatively minor inconvenience.