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5 things never to keep in your wallet

You probably have items in there that could help a thief steal your identity and empty your bank account. Take them out -- now.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 24, 2012 10:38AM

This post comes from Tisha Tolar at partner blog Wise Bread.


Wise Bread logoI lost my wallet at the mall the other day. I paid my bill at the Hallmark card store, but at my next stop in Bath & Body Works I had to borrow $24 and some change from my 10-year-old daughter. My wallet was gone, and I had no recollection of what had happened in the two minutes it took me to walk from one store to the next.


I am a personal finance writer, creating hundreds of articles a year on the topic, including tips for preventing financial meltdowns. Yet here I was in the mall poking through trash cans, convinced some jerk had taken the cash, and maybe the credit cards, and ditched the evidence.

As the hassle of what it would take to get back my identity flowed through my head, my main thought was how stupid I was. If anyone should know better about financial protection, it should be me. I was such a failure.


Man taking money out of wallet © Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty ImagesI didn't have an updated list of credit card contact information. My Social Security card was inside the wallet. Every credit card/debit card I own was in the wallet, along with receipts for the purchases I had made.


I hadn't felt so inadequate in a long time. I mean, I warn people for a living, yet what I practice is not what I preach.


Despite my despair at being so careless, the story has a happy ending. A nice woman returned my wallet to the nearest department store and reported her find to mall security. Thankfully, everything was intact, and I was even able to call my hero of the day to personally thank her. 


However, my good karma that day does not negate my reckless financial behavior. So I am here to confess publicly my disregard for my own advice about wallet safety and add some additional tips.


Social Security card and birth certificate

You may have needed this information for some specific purpose and just never took the card and certificate back out of your wallet, purse or briefcase, even though you see the documents every time you are looking for something else. Remove such personal information immediately, and file it in a safe at home. Someone with access to this information can essentially do anything you can do in your name, such as open a credit card.



While store receipts may not have all the data one would need to use your credit and debit cards or personal identity, they could provide just enough details for an experienced crook to figure out the rest. If you keep receipts for other reasons, clean them out of your wallet and your vehicle on a regular basis. Dispose of them by shredding them into pieces before they hit the garbage can.


Every credit card you own

You never want to be without access to some kind of money if your wallet is stolen. You should carry only one credit card with you for emergency purposes and leave the rest at home. Write down the contact information and card number for each card you do carry, and file it in a safe place so you can easily report the card missing if your wallet is taken. If the thief has access to all of your credit and bank cards, you are basically a sitting duck and will have a mountain of hassles in front of you to get things back to normal.


Spare house keys

If someone has access to your wallet, there is a strong likelihood your personal identification will lead a thief right to your home. A spare house key is an invitation to steal more. A thief can assume you are still at the mall searching for your lost wallet and may be inclined to go see what good stuff can be removed from your house. Not only will you have safety concerns; you'll also have to act fast to change locks and increase security at your home while at the same time trying to resolve your other lost wallet problems.


Your PINs

Every card provider tells you to select a personal identification number that is easy to remember. Still, some people find they have to write down the information and keep it in their wallet next to their bank cards for easy access. This may be helpful to you when you need to use the ATM, but you can say goodbye to your bank account if you give the same details to the crook who stole your wallet. Store your PINs as phone numbers in your locked mobile phone, or work hard at memorizing the PIN for the card you use most.


More on Wise Bread and MSN Money


Oct 24, 2012 8:52PM
Being in the security industry I have this much to say.. first of all no matter what you do the most important is to keep 1-2 card and forget the rest. if your intent to keep them, put them in a safe deposit box. people get so spoiled of having so many cards, that they end up carrying 5-6 cards. Choose 1 or 2 max. I carry a MasterCard and amex. I advise my clients that one credit card and one charge card is more than enough for a  busy person.

Everything else I keep it locked up in a safe deposit.  but only keep with you if required. leaving it home is another common mistake for people, if your house catches fire and or a theft occurs, again your lost, everything will be gone. sometimes The smartest thing to do when your out and about is keep it in the front pocket if you have one. By keeping it in your bag is an easy lift for the idiots. If you have it in your back pocket, again I have been to places where they sense you have a wallet they will slice you rear pocket to have the wallet drop out. and guess what, you will not even notice. Be smart, shop smart, and of all practice smart. If your going to buy a lot of items, a purse is the worst thing you want to bring with you. wear blue jeans.

Also refrain from keeping so many cards, when you want to check the balance or question something, did you know that for some card companies they outsource the call center? the 2 biggest places are India and the Philippines. Well guess what? they ask you for all your info, and thus now you have given anything from your telephone pin, card number, address, last 4, date of birth all in one call. If your bank has a out country call center, you are at a higher risk to giving your information and the person on the other-side has everything they need.

I went to visit a call center in Asia and saw people writing down names and other information, security was far beyond loose, and when I questioned about how do they protect the data, the answer was "they cant copy anything from the computer" but yet I witnessed 4 people sending text messages from a call center desk. What does the bank do? they wont do anything, they are outsourcing to save money, so one complaint from you will not do anything. Be assured I tried. I even sent a picture to the bank they were representing, and the only answer. "we will look into it" 2 years later? same thing still happens.

What happen to having a real American call center? who wants to talk to someone who has trouble understanding english?

Keeping a card that covers theft is important.  and having 1-2 cards will make it easy to cancel, as you are not required to remember the card number but just the bank which issued the card.

People have asked me about cash. and I always tell them, bring 100$ as emergency money, anything more than that is bait for those waiting for you to make a mistake. After all if you have credit cards or a debit card, why do you need so much cash?

Pin numbers; if you don't take the time and make a easy pin for yourself to remember , so you have to bring it with you all the time, then that pin should be changed. If you cant make the change,  then you are the one at fault when you loose it.

Keys: what do you really need? at the most, the car key and the house key. I have seen people with key chains like janitors. forget all that, take time and determine exactly which key do you REALLY need.

be safe...

Oct 24, 2012 3:26PM

Having the credit card may be good for you, it could distract the stupid crooks from the most obvious and damaging info they can get thier hands on ..... your license!!

It's got ALL the good info any 4th grade crook would need in order to F%#$ your life up for a while.

Oct 24, 2012 5:25PM

The author has good advise here.  Another thing you should do is to photocopy the front and back of the credit/debit, etc. cards you carry and put it in a safe but accessible place at home.  Then if your wallet or purse gets stolen, you, or better yet someone at home that you can call quickly, can easily have the information they need to call and begin canceling the cards or calling the bank to stop payments on checks that might have been taken.  Crooks hate it when they steal a credit card and find that its already been canceled by the time they get to Best Buy or where ever.

Oct 24, 2012 11:45PM
Good advice.  But there's a problem that seniors have.  Did you know that your Medicare number is (or will be) the same as your Social Security number?  And you have to present your Medicare card any time you need medical services -- which could, of course, be any time.

Even if you have a different kind of plan -- like Medicare Advantage -- you will still need the Medicare card for some providers.

Your gummint in action.

Oct 25, 2012 12:43PM

When I travel internationally I carry a fake wallet. The majority of my cash, credit cards, ID, etc. are in a smaller hidden wallet. My fake wallet has enough cash to look real and has some of those fake "John Q. Public" credit cards the card companies send out...just enough to make it look real at first glance. If the thief steals your wallet, they are not going to stand there and take an inventory. If they even open it they will take it and leave when they see the cash and fake credit cards.

Oct 25, 2012 3:18PM

I carry a debit card and one credit card, driver license, pistol permit, NRA membership card, health insurance cards. PINs are memorized, and there are only 2 of them.

All in a two-sided (cash and plastic on opposite sides) money clip carried in a front trouser pocket.

Money clips are inconvenient, inflexible, and unhandy, and uncomfortable. The ONLY place they ride well is in the front, where it is much harder for a thief to gain access to it. As soon as I place it in the pocket, I feel for it through the fabric. Only when assured all is well do I begin walking. 

SS card and birth certificate never leave the safe unless required, and are returned immediately.

All keys are on a metal carabiner snapped to a belt loop in front where its presence is known with every step.

Keep your eyes and ears open, your head on a swivel, know your surroundings, and watch EVERYONE around you. NEVER feel comfortable in large crowds.

Trust NO ONE, just like they say in the movies.


Oct 24, 2012 11:32PM
Another comment: As for pin numbers  & passwords, well I don't have too many pins to remember, but I remember them as short words rather than numerals. Passwords are a little more of a challenge, but I've come up with a way to write down reminders, but not the actual passwords themselves. I think of a different word or phrase that I associate with the password and write it down instead. For example, one of my passwords is based on the name of a fictional character, so I've written down a breif descriptive phrase that refers to the  character. In this case, the character is NOT one so well known that anybody might guess the name, but for illustration, let's say the password is Spidey#3; the reminder phrase could be "wall crawler's triple challenge". Of course, it would be best to use a lesser known character and/or to have a more "personalized" reminder phrase. Still, the general idea is to add another obstacle for identity thieves.
Oct 25, 2012 12:00PM
I'll go one better on all of you. DON'T carry pictures of your family in your wallet. Thinking ONLY a thief is the problem you'll run into, is stupid think at best. If your info comes accross the hands of gang members or serious thugs hell bent on extortion, that small amount of credit you have will pale in comparison to the possible abduction a thug will do on your family. Then will money really matter? 
Oct 24, 2012 9:55PM
Years ago, when I was traveling in Europe & had to worry not only about keeping my cash (local currency) & AMEx card safe, yet on my person, but also my passport & other photo ID, I came up with a workable solution. Instead of carrying my wallet and passport in back pockets, or even in the breast pocket of my shirt, I put them in the front pockets of my jeans. I won't claim that no pickpocket could ever lift them, but I'm pretty sure those are the hardest pockets to pick. Back then (before PCs and cell phones changed everything), the Social Security Admin. actually advised people to carry one copy of their Soc.Sec. card w/them at all times, but to keep the other copy that they used to issue at the same time in a safe or locked file box at home. Not sure what the reasoning was behind that, but obviously NOT the advice they give now. Anyway, I always made sure that my SSCard was separate from my passport, and that my AmEx card was separate from my traveller's checks (which, by the way, weren't always AmEx; despite their advertising, ANY reputable brand of traveller's checks were as good as AmEx & safer than cash ... and worth more than cash at the money exchange offices). In my case, the only credit card I carried was AmEx, but even if it had been Visa or MasterCard, I would have still only carried one. Since I had my DL & AmEx card in my wallet, along w/my SS Card hidden in a "secret" compartment inside the wallet in one front pocket of my jeans, and my cash & passport in the other front pocket, it was the traveller's checks that I put in my back pocket (except one that I kept in the bill compartment of the wallet). Living in a small town, I don't take such measures on a daily basis anymore, but it's still what I do when I travel (except that I never carry my SS Card w/me any longer - I have the number memorized instead).
Oct 24, 2012 3:55PM
You should have watched "Home Alone 2."  That story cured me of what we carry.  And my husband and I do not carry the same credit cards.
Oct 25, 2012 12:52PM

I also would like to add never carry alot of cash; I would suggest never more than ten dollars since a lost or stolen wallet means you may or may not get that cash back. Carrying credit cards is not as bad as carrying cash since most all banks will not hold you responsible for any unauthorized charges as long as you report the card lost or stolen within 24 hours.

Oct 25, 2012 6:13PM
For seniors, the Social Security Card is their MEDICAL INSURANCE CARD. To get a discount on the NYC Subway System, you have to show your Social Security CARD. What's a senior supposed to do?
Oct 25, 2012 3:28PM
And DO NOT do what is going around in a mass e-mailing now: making a list of all your account numbers, institution names and telephone numbers, and PINs, and keeping it in your glovebox!!! Of all the well-meaning but stupid advice for senior citizens, this is the WORST. My mother-in-law got it, thought it was grand, DID IT, and then forwarded the e-mail to everyone she knows. I immediately set her straight.
Oct 25, 2012 8:00PM
If you don't already know NOT to keep these items in your wallet then your an idiot!
Oct 25, 2012 10:55AM
Oct 25, 2012 4:30PM
if obama wins you wont need to carry cash or a credit card. The government will give everything to you for free.
Oct 25, 2012 8:52AM
So... the advice is - if I lose my wallet, I have to change my locks at home???   How in the world does that make sense?   I'll give the author the point that a thief could go to my home to =try and steal something, but how do new locks help to avoid this?
Oct 25, 2012 11:13AM
There's nothing like pointing out the obvious. To those who found this useful, congratulations on your IQ. Please strive to top 85 by next year.
Oct 24, 2012 12:06PM
One credit card, just for emergencies? I have three to cover various types of purchases. You have to have that flexibility if you want to obtain the best rewards. Using a debit card or carrying cash around is as recipe for problems; either theft or lack of consumer protections.
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