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You get up from a crowded restaurant and realize your purse or back pocket feels a bit lighter. Like a brick, it hits you: Someone’s lifted your wallet.
You know you’ve lost your cash. Are they already using your credit cards? Have they figured out your PIN number yet?
Hopefully this has never happened to you, but it happens to someone in my hometown of New Orleans often. Fair warning: Be prepared. Clean out your wallet.
If you know what to keep, and what not to keep, in your pocket, wallet, or purse, you’ll radically reduce the financial damage and odds of identity theft if you do ever find your pockets a little lighter.
What to have on you…
1. Credit card
A credit card is good to have around for emergencies. Pick the card with the best interest rate or rewards and stash it in your wallet. If you’ve got one with a great rewards program, and you never carry a balance, use it for as many purchases as possible. If you do carry a balance, use one with a low interest rate, but use it as little as possible.
2. Debit card
I want to avoid the temptation of credit cards and the inconvenience of cash, so I always keep my debit card handy and use it for most purchases.
3. Emergency cash
If it were up to me, every place would take plastic, but some places don’t. Keep a small amount of cash in your wallet for emergencies or little purchases. For example, last weekend I didn’t catch the bus and had to hail a cab. He only took cash. Luckily I had $40 in my wallet.
I’ve also gone to a restaurant without realizing they only took cash until I finished my meal and got the bill. Having cash avoided an embarrassing moment.
And now that merchants can require minimums to use plastic, cash can also keep you from spending more than you intended.
4. Contact information
If your wallet is lost, hopefully a good Samaritan will return it. If you’re in an accident, hopefully someone will be able to contact your family. Your driver’s license or other ID helps, but only if it has the current address. Plus, it won’t show who to contact in case of emergency. Keep a list of important contacts (phone number only).
5. Reward cards
Grocery and drugstore reward cards can deliver big savings and points for gift cards or bigger savings later. Keep them in your wallet and use them.
6. Almost-expired coupons
I can’t tell you how many times I let a coupon expire because I forgot I had it. Now I go through my coupons once a week. Anything expiring within the next seven days I store in my wallet so I remember to use it (hopefully).
It seems like common sense, but always make sure you’ve got your driver’s license or state ID. You’ll get slapped with a hefty fine if you get pulled over without it, or just face an embarrassing moment in the checkout line if they ask for it.
What you should NEVER have in your wallet…
1. Social Security card
Your Social Security card is the gateway to identity theft. If your wallet is lost or stolen with your Social Security number inside, anyone can steal your identity, open credit cards, or apply for loans in your name. And while you’re extracting your Social Security card, look for anything with your Social Security number on it and store it in a safe place.
2. Birth certificate
Your birth certificate is another easy way for identity thieves to impersonate you. Keep it at home in a fireproof safe or in a safe deposit box at the bank.
3. PIN numbers
I have a friend who writes her PIN number on the back of her ATM card. Big mistake. If your wallet is lost or stolen and the PIN number to your ATM or debit card is inside, you can kiss your checking account balance goodbye. If you have to write these numbers down, keep them at home.
Another friend keeps his passwords on a post-it note in his wallet. He says it isn’t risky, but think of it like this: Your wallet is stolen. Inside the thief finds your ATM card and a note with your password on it. Now all he has to do is log on to your bank’s site, use your ATM card number to request your login name, and type in your password. Presto! He can transfer money, order cashier’s checks, and send international money orders all before you realize your wallet is gone.
5. Spare keys
No one wants to be locked out of their car – or their house – so keeping spare keys in your wallet seems like a good idea…until your wallet is stolen. Now the thief has your money, your address, access to your house, and a convenient way to get there. Scary, no?
6. Blank checks
If someone gets hold of blank checks, it won’t be hard to forge your name and cash them. I once had a roommate sign a check for me when I couldn’t get to the bank. She even went through the drive-through and my bank cashed it. Clearly, you can’t rely on tellers to protect your money. Carry a debit card, not checks.
7. Extra credit cards
A wallet full of credit cards is just a wallet full of temptation that can lead to a mountain of debt. It will also compound the hassle should your wallet get stolen. Play it safe and remove the temptation – keep the extra cards locked up at home and you’ll have less hassle if you get ripped off and less temptation if you don’t. That being said, if you’re going on vacation, always take more than one credit card in case you lose one.
8. ATM card
Your debit card doubles as an ATM card. You can use it to pull out cash at an ATM or to make purchases using your PIN number. If you’ve got your debit card, you don’t also need your ATM card. Leave it at home. If your wallet does get stolen, it’s one less card to worry about.
9. Gift cards
Obviously, if you’re going to use it, carry it. But if you’re not, that’s the first thing a thief will use.
In addition to being bulky and taking up space, receipts could theoretically help a thief put your credit card or account information together. In addition, if you need them for work, taxes, warranties, or returns, don’t risk losing them by carrying them around.
Keep copies of what’s in your wallet
If you’ve got access to a copy machine or scanner, take a minute right now and copy everything you’ve got in your wallet, front and back. Keep it at home in a safe place and should your wallet get stolen, you’ll know exactly what you’ve lost and who to call to replace it.
Have you learned these lessons the hard way? Tell us what you’ve lost and how you dealt with it below or on our Facebook page!