5 Things to Never Keep in Your Wallet

by Tisha Tolar on 8 August 2012 16 comments
Photo: JacobEnos

I lost my wallet at the mall the other day. I was paying my bill at the Hallmark card store, and at my next stop in Bath and 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 happened in the two minutes it took me to walk from one store into the next. (See also: 10 Things You Should Do Immediately After Losing Your Wallet)

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 took the cash and maybe the credit cards, and ditched the evidence. As all the hassles of what it would take to get back my identity flowed through my head, the only thing I really could not push out of my mind was how stupid I was. If anyone should know better about financial protection, it should be me. I was such a failure.

I didn’t have an updated list of credit card or 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 been making. I haven’t felt so inadequate in a long time — I mean, I warn people for a living, yet what I practice is not what it is 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 say thank you.

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 about what to remove from your wallet to help avoid financial ruin.

Social Security Card and Birth Certificate

You may have needed this information for some specific purpose and just never took them back out of your wallet, purse, or briefcase, even though you see the documents every time you are looking for something else. Take out 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.

Receipts

While store receipts may not have all of the data one would need to use your credit, debit card, 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 in the event your wallet is stolen. Unlike me, you should only carry 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 hassle 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 they can get from your house. Not only will you have safety concerns, you’ll 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 issues.

Your PIN Codes

Every card provider tells you to select a password that is easy to remember. Still, some people find they have to write down the information and keep it in their wallets 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 con artist that stole your wallet. Store your password as a phone number in your locked mobile phone or work hard at memorizing the PIN for the card you use most.

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Guest's picture

Absolutely! Thanks for the reminder. I'm guilty of the social security cards and there's no reason to be because I know my number from memory anyway - out it comes tonight!

Meg Favreau's picture

I was guilty of this one too -- until my wallet was stolen. Thankfully this was back before identity theft was as prevalent as it is today.

Guest's picture
Adam

Great Advice! Putting social security and lumping all your credit cards in one basket is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, I learned it the hard way when my wallet was stollen on the upper westside of nyc.

Guest's picture
Travis

These are good ideas... like keeping track of what is in your Credit Card. The big issue if you want to record your CC#'s is where do you keep this that is accessible update-able and secure?

I would like to put this in a google doc but not sure if that is truly safe enough.

Thoughts?

Guest's picture
TheDude

Private information of this type never belongs in the cloud unless secured. If you want to utilize the cloud for this, I would recommend creating a TrueCrypt volume containing your data & store that in the cloud. That would offer secure encryption only accessible by you.

Guest's picture
Kayla

Thanks for sharing! I often have to bring my social security card along for various reasons, and usually forget to take it out of my wallet when I'm done with it. I'll have to work on remembering to do that, or find another place to store it.

Guest's picture
Max

Good advice throughout the article. I always try to keep the bare minimum in my wallet. Not only for security reasons by also to make sitting and walking more comfortable. Never want to have "George Costanza" wallet.

Guest's picture

VERY bad idea to keep a spare key or your ATM pin written down inside your wallet. That's basically like inviting the thief to steal all of your belongings and savings. I lived in Barcelona, Spain for a semester in college, and it is known as the pickpocketing capital of Europe, maybe even the world. Since then I am overly careful about what I carry with me and am always aware of my surroundings, almost to the point of looking like a crazed paranoid woman.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the tips! This reminds me to get all those receipts out of there. I'm so used to just sticking them straight into my wallet and never really thought about the risks.

Guest's picture

Thank you for the article. These are helpful tips because often the busyness of life can prevent us from utilizing safe practices to protect our identity. We often think that things are always going to be ok, but as your opening story indicates accidents happen to all of us.

Guest's picture
JD

A friend of mind that works in law enforcement said he doesn't have pictures of his family in his wallet. I've also followed this advice. Also, when traveling I carry a dummy wallet with a few dollars in it.

Guest's picture
Matt Thomas

We have a bank that requires you to show you social security card at the time of the transaction......

Guest's picture

I just read this and cleaned out my wallet. Hopefully I never lose it but if I did at least I'll still have my sin, one working credit card, and the phone numbers of the cards I have for easy cancelling :)

Guest's picture

Great tips. I need to remember to put away my social security card from out of my wallet. I've never lost my wallet but I have lost my debit card a few times as a result of not carrying my wallet. lol

Guest's picture
Kostas

Spare keys - good point. What is the point in carrying more keys than you are going to need at the given moment anyway? Only take exactly what is needed and enjoy the sense of security!

Guest's picture
Rayza

Thanks Tisha! it was good reading. Will do all you said and I am so happy a good person returned your wallet. Do you know anything about car warranties . My dealership warranty ended so someone called me letting me know that. They suggested I buy one because car repairs on an Escalade is very high. I just lost my job so that scared me and i mailed them what they needed . But now I feel like a sucker.