Keep the list anywhere but your wallet -- stored on your phone or laptop, e-mailed to yourself, with a friend or relative.

The weeding out is as important as the list making. There's no reason for me to have carried that department-store card, since I use it once a year, tops. My wallet also held a gift card to a Seattle restaurant, which obviously couldn't have been used in Chicago.

"Carry only what you need," Kelly says.

Two weeks after the fact, I'm remembering other wallet plumpers, such as my library card, punch cards for a bakery outlet store and my favorite teriyaki place, a Miraculous Medal given to me by an old friend, a picture drawn by my great-nephew and my membership card from American Mensa. That last one was feeling less appropriate by the minute anyway.

Careful what you carry

What shouldn't ever be in your wallet? Anything with sensitive information, such as a birth certificate or Social Security card -- it's manna from heaven for an identity thief. Both of these things were in Florida resident Kelly D.'s purse when she set it down at a favorite tavern and turned to chat with a friend.

"Which in hindsight, I guess, is pretty stupid," says Kelly, who asked that her full name not be used.

She'd put the two items in her bag for safekeeping during a recent move and then forgot to take them out. Kelly lost cash and credit cards, too -- and to add insult to injury, the crook used her smartphone to post profane messages to her Facebook page.

"There's a whole lot of jerks out there," says Kelly, whose new phone is password-protected.

Senior citizens are vulnerable because Social Security numbers are incorporated into Medicare ID numbers. Here's one way around that: Photocopy the card and cover the last four digits with a black marker. Carry this with you day to day, taking your real card only when you have a doctor's appointment.

A regular health insurance card leaves you vulnerable, too. It's really just "a credit card with a million-dollar credit line," according to Rebecca Busch, the author of "Healthcare Fraud: Auditing and Detection Guide."

Medical identity theft has serious implications. If the thief's health records get mixed up with yours, you might find it harder to get health or life insurance. For example, "your" medical records might show you as being HIV-positive.

Busch's favorite cautionary tale is of a woman whose insurance card was stolen by a pregnant addict. The state tried to take custody of the woman's children because they thought she'd just given birth while addicted to methamphetamine. Worse, the woman needed surgery the next month and was nearly transfused with the addict's blood type rather than her own.

The author suggests asking insurance providers for a new ID number (which may not be possible) and scrutinizing every explanation of benefits statement that comes your way, to be sure no one is having dental work done on your dime.

Financial decoys

A couple of hours after the mugging, I was on a plane to Chicago. I got through airport security with a second form of picture ID: my passport. I've carried it on travels for years, in case I lost my wallet.

It is possible to get on a plane without a picture ID, according to the Transportation Safety Administration's website. But this generally requires "additional screening," so I'm glad I didn't have to go that route. I've had the special pat-down, and it's pretty startling.

Two other things that made travel possible: the cash and credit cards stored elsewhere on my person. I keep most of my money and credit cards in coat or jeans pockets and in a small fanny pack under a sweater. My theory: Thieves are in a hurry, so finding some money and at least one card in the wallet might be enough.

Security specialist John Rendeiro also uses financial decoys. On a recent trip to Spain he put some money and one card in a pocket wallet but kept his ID and the bulk of his cash and cards in a waistband wallet under his shirt.

And back home? Rendeiro recommends carrying just one credit card and "minimal" cash, even if you're only heading out to lunch.

"You just want to minimize the (potential) damage," says Rendeiro, who's with the medical and security firm International SOS.

In store checkout lines I've glimpsed wallets that look like museums of credit: six or seven cards, each displayed in a little plastic sleeve. That's not a good idea, says Richard Barrington of MoneyRates.com.

"Every one of those things is like a window. If (theft) happens, those windows become places where the criminal can come into your house," Barrington says.

Close the windows, already. Choose one or two cards and lock up the rest.

Reasonable precautions

Pickpockets and thieves have been with us since cities were invented. If you've never been robbed, you're either very lucky, very vigilant or very unapproachable. Or maybe you live in North Dakota.

We can't be guaranteed safe passage through life. What we can do is take reasonable precautions. Someone once laughed at me for carrying a passport when flying to my home state of New Jersey, which is technically not a different country.

Now I'm glad I did. It's awkward enough to take off your shoes and belt at airport security. The last thing I needed was a special pat-down while suffering from the shock and adrenaline hangover of having been robbed an hour earlier.

I hope that thieves never find you. But if they do, I hope you get the kind of belly laugh I got later. The bank customer-service rep told me one of those three knuckleheads wrote a check on my business account and deposited it in his bank account. Honest.

He made it out for $8,000 and wrote "for serivces (sic) rendered" in the memo line. How on earth did he come up with that amount? Because $7,000 seemed penny-ante but $9,000 might have looked suspicious?

The banker couldn't say whether the guy would be prosecuted, although I expect the police might want a look at him in connection with similar robberies. Myself, I'd be tempted to visit him in jail and offer to teach him how to spell.

Donna Freedman is a freelance writer in Seattle. You can find more of her writing on MSN Money's Frugal Cool blog and at Surviving and Thriving (motto: "Life is short. But it's also wide.").