Is your wallet putting you at risk of identity fraud? To be more precise, are you carrying things in your wallet that would make it easier for thieves to steal your identity, access your accounts or run up charges in your name?
Americans lose billions of dollars every year to identity fraud. In 2021 alone, more than 15 million U.S. consumers lost a total of $24 billion as a result of thieves stealing their personal information for financial gain, according to the 2022 Javelin Identity Fraud Study. The average per victim loss was $1,551, up from $201 in 2020.
Although identity thieves are increasingly gaining access to victims’ personal information online, many still use low-tech methods such as stealing wallets. So make sure you’re not carrying these eight things in your wallet to limit the damage that can be done if it is lost or stolen.
Social Security card
Thieves can do a lot of damage with your Social Security number. It can be used to open new accounts and lines of credit in your name, to file fraudulent tax returns to claim refunds and to claim government benefits. That’s why the Social Security Administration cautions against routinely carrying your Social Security card with you.
Medicare or health insurance card
Social Security numbers were used as Medicare ID numbers until 2018, making Medicare cards extremely valuable to identity thieves. Although Medicare cards no longer have Social Security numbers on them, it’s still a bad idea to keep yours—or any health insurance card—in your wallet at all times.
Thieves can use your card to get medical care, buy prescription drugs or submit claims with your insurance provider. This is known as medical identity theft, and it can leave you on the hook for medical bills. It’s best to keep your card stored somewhere safe and to put it in your wallet only when you get medical care or get prescriptions filled.
PINs and passwords
Carrying a piece of paper in your wallet with your debit card PIN might seem like a good backup in case you forget your number. But it gives thieves easy access to your bank account.
It’s also a bad idea to keep a list of account usernames and passwords in your wallet. All of those accounts would be at risk if your wallet is lost or stolen. A better option would be to use a password manager app or website. For example, the Carefull service offers a digital vault and password manager where you can safely store passwords and sensitive information, such as PINs. If you need the information while you’re out, you can log onto your account on your mobile device to get it.
[ See: How to Protect Your Account Passwords ]
Multiple credit cards
The more credit cards you carry, the more damage thieves can do if they get your wallet. You’ll have to contact all of your card issuers to cancel each card and dispute any fraudulent charges that are made—which can be incredibly time-consuming and stressful.
Limit the number or credit cards you carry to just one. If you have others, such as a retailer credit card, only bring them with you when you plan to use them.
Don’t make it easy for thieves to raid your bank account by keeping blank checks in your wallet. In fact, it’s not a good idea to carry checks that have been made out to you unless you plan to deposit them immediately. Thieves can use a process called check washing to change the recipient name and dollar amount on checks so they can deposit them in their accounts.
Checks also have other valuable information, including your bank account number and your address. So leave them at home unless you plan to use them that day.
Lots of cash
If you prefer paying with cash rather than credit, you’re better off using a debit card than carrying a lot of cash. You’re more likely to get your money back if a thief steals your debit card and you report any fraudulent charges quickly. If a thief steals your wallet stuffed with cash, the money is gone.
Multiple gift cards
Gift cards don’t have information thieves can use to steal your identity. However, there’s no need to keep several in your wallet on the off chance that you might use them. If they are stolen, you likely won’t be able to replace them unless you have the card number, activation receipt or purchase receipt.
Keys to your home or car
Keeping a key to your home in your wallet is like an open invitation to a thief to burglarize your home because your address is available on your driver’s license (and those blank checks you might be carrying). If you have a spare car key in your wallet and happen to leave your wallet in the car, a thief can easily drive away in your vehicle.
[ Keep Reading: Don’t Fall for Zelle Scams ]