Chances are there are at least a few items in your wallet that don’t need to be there anymore. Maybe a credit card you don’t really use anymore, or a store-specific charge card for an establishment you haven’t visited in a year or two.
Chances are, your wallet is due for a clean out. We recommend you really take a look at each item you carry around regularly. And whatever you do, there are a few things that you should never, ever carry in your wallet …
- Social Security card: This is likely the most important thing to leave at home, in a safe, secure place — a safety deposit box, fireproof safe or the like. Likewise, don’t carry anything in your purse or wallet that might have your Social Security number written on it. Social Security numbers are considered the “gateway to identity theft” for good reason. “Identity thieves can use your number and your good credit to apply for more credit in your name,” according to a pamphlet released by the Social Security administration entitled “Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number.” “Then, they use the credit cards and don’t pay the bills, it damages your credit. You may not find out that someone is using your number until you’re turned down for credit, or you begin to get calls from unknown creditors demanding payment for items you never bought.” Still not convinced? An Arizona man by the name of Tony Chilicas lost his wallet in 2003. His Social Security card was inside, and whoever found it used it to steal his identity. Since then “at least 17 different people” have used his identity to work, as detailed in this ABC15 story. But those people haven’t paid enough taxes and last year alone the IRS sent him bills totaling nearly $48,000. They’ve seized his bank accounts and despite working with attorneys for years to rectify the situation, he’s been in “hell” the last decade dealing with the fallout. Please, don’t carry around your Social Security card.
- Birth Certificate or Passport: Same story here. These important documents are best left in a safety deposit box, fireproof safe or somewhere equally safe. If you’re traveling, it’s best to keep a photocopy of your Passport with you and leave your actual Passport in the hotel safe.
- Gift cards: If you’ve got plans to use them that day or even week, then of course it makes sense to carry them with you. But it’s not smart to just carry a stack of gift cards around. The reason gift cards are beloved is because they’re just like cash, which means they’re hard — or next to impossible — to replace. Take Walmart, for instance, whose policy is clear: “Lost or stolen cards will not be replaced. Neither Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC nor Wal-Mart Stores Arkansas, LLC shall have liability to you for lost or stolen Walmart Gift Cards or use of any Walmart Gift Cards by third parties through your Walmart.com account.”
- Blank checks: Think about it: Your checks contain a whole lot of information that you don’t want a criminal to have — your name and address, your bank’s name, your bank account number and routing number. With this information, someone could potentially take over your account. As you likely know, many websites allow you to purchase items using your bank account number and other information that’s likely available on a check, so someone who has that information could make fraudulent purchases.
- Credit cards you don’t often use: Carrying one or possibly two oft-used cards is OK, but really anything additional should be left at home, in a safe, secure place. This includes credit cards tied to specific stores, for example a Saks Fifth Avenue or Gap card. If you struggle with credit card debt, this advice is helpful on many levels.
- Pin numbers: A four-digit code written on a sticky note tucked in a tiny pocket in your wallet is the cherry on top of a cash sundae for a thief. There’s a much-lighter bank account in your future should you make this mistake. Do yourself a favor and memorize your pin number rather than write it down anywhere that’s carried in close proximity to your debit and/or ATM card.
We have one additional suggestion. If someone stole your wallet or purse today, can you immediately envision everything that’s inside? Would you know who to start calling to cancel your cards and protect yourself?
Do yourself a favor and go photocopy everything you regularly carry around — front and back — and put it in a safe place, like a safe or lockbox. This way, should your belongings get stolen, you’ll know exactly who to call and what to cancel immediately.
Are you covered for identity theft?