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What if a thief gets your wallet?

The loss of ID, credit cards and health insurance info can cause major hassles. Reduce the risk by doing a 'wallet audit.'

By Donna_Freedman Dec 28, 2012 11:56AM
Logo: Man taking money out of wallet (Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty ImagesThe other night a young woman I know set her keys and purse down on a store counter while she looked at some jewelry. You can guess what happened next.

In the bag were her debit card, driver's license, about $20 in cash and a health insurance card. I suppose she's lucky that the opportunistic thief didn't take the keys, too. Otherwise the family would have had to change the home's locks and rekey her automobile.

She called the bank immediately to freeze her account. Fortunately she has no credit cards, so she won't have to explain to Visa's fraud department that she really didn't buy $6,000 worth of computer equipment.

No one can protect her from the dreaded driver's license photo retake, though.

It could have been worse, and she knows that. She also knows that the aggravation won't end with a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Because her personal information is now out there somewhere, she faces the possibility of identity theft.

Maybe you'll never be robbed or lose a wallet. Don't bet on it, though. Taking a few basic precautions will minimize the potential for loss and make dealing with the hassles a little easier. Not easier to bear, just easier to accomplish.

What's in your wallet?

Without looking, write down everything that's in your billfold, purse or backpack. Next, check to see what you left out. More than one item, I bet.

Time to do a "wallet audit," which is accomplished in two parts:

First, weed out everything you don't need on a regular basis. This includes credit cards (carry one or two at a time, tops), checkbook (if you still use one), the gift cards you got for Christmas and, heaven forbid, your Social Security card.
Make a list of the things you keep, plus the contact information for each card you carry, including your debit. (Don’t write down card numbers, mind you -- just their names.) Keep that list anywhere but your wallet: with a relative or friend, emailed to yourself, stored on laptop or phone or on an index card in a coat pocket.

In case of theft or loss, make those calls immediately. You're not liable for fraudulent purchases if you report the loss promptly, but card companies ultimately pass on the costs to consumers. Don't add to this collective burden.

If your driver's license or other personal information goes missing, see MSN Money's "Financial Privacy" page for tips on protecting yourself from the possibility of identity theft.

Library fraud?

A few more wallet audit tips:

Library card.
Cancel it. Someone could take out a couple of dozen books or DVDs -- and you'd be on the hook. (At least that's what a Seattle librarian told me when I got mugged a couple of years ago.)

Medicare card.
A senior's Social Security number is part of the Medicare ID code. Photocopy the card and use a black marker to obliterate the last four digits. Keep the copy in your wallet and the real card under lock and key, taking it out only if you have a medical appointment.

Health insurance card.
 Medical identity theft is a fast-growing problem. Ask if your insurer will cancel your ID number and assign a new one; if that's not possible, check all insurance-related mail to make sure no one is using your card.

Gift cards.
You have little chance of getting back the funds if cards are lost or stolen. Keep them locked up until you're ready to shop, or download an app and store them on your smartphone.

Don't carry the only copy of any picture. Making a duplicate takes only a few minutes and may save you some heartache later on.

Obviously, the most important thing to do is keep an eye on your dough. Don't set your wallet or purse down anywhere. Tuck it into your waistband, under your arm or between your knees.

Do not rely on your fellow man to be honest, because you may be disappointed. Inconvenienced, too.

More on MSN Money:
Dec 28, 2012 7:10PM
I guess I am a glass is half empty type when it comes to stuff like this and I always imagine the worse.

I scanned all my docs and placed them on my internet cloud. Anything happens, well it's a 2./10 on the stress scale rather than a 11/10. Scanning + uploading took me about 5 mins. Time well spent.

Dec 29, 2012 4:48AM

I do NOT have my credit cards o gift cards in my wallet.

However, I DO have way too much ‘stuff’ in it.  Think I am going to go w/a combo of 2 approaches:


Since I just got a new printer w/scanner I am going to scan everything I do carry

I will look over my collection of ‘stuff’ for a separate cc case.

Jan 4, 2013 10:00AM
Thanks...I just did mine...wallet audit and wrote down all Card numbers and emergency replacement contacts. If it's like how insurance works....I'll never need it. I swear...when you buy insurance, the physical act of...then you'll never need huh?
Jan 4, 2013 10:56AM
good reminder.  perhaps every new year or every time we change the clocks we should review our walets for updates and backup scans. 
Jan 5, 2013 11:36AM
Your article came very handy to start the new year. Thanks.
Dec 31, 2012 8:27AM
Safeguarding our personal information is important to prevent the risk of Identity theft. Read an informative whitepaper on Id theft " Wire fraud and Identity theft : Risks and prevention for Banks and consumers", readers will find it helpful @
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.