What you keep in your wallet will determine how at risk you are for identity theft in the chance you lose it. Here are 10 items experts suggest keeping at home.
We all make sure we've got our keys, wallet and phone before we head out the door, but more often than not, we are carrying around things that are better left at home. Some items we carry on a daily basis can be virtually impossible to replace, and others may leave us at risk for identity theft in the event of loss. We checked in with the personal finance experts at LearnVest to find the top 10 things you shouldn't carry in your purse or wallet.
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Social Security Card
"You may carry it around thinking you need a back-up source of ID, but these days you don't really need it," says Maria Lin, editor in chief at Learnvest. If your Social Security card gets in the wrong hands, someone could open a credit card, apply for a loan, or even buy a car with the information. It's nine digits, just memorize it.
If you're traveling internationally, of course you can't leave your passport at home, but you can leave it in the hotel safe. When you are abroad, make a photocopy of your passport to have in your wallet for identification along with your driver's license. "If you lose your passport or get mugged in a foreign country, it's such a horrible hassle," says Lin. "You have to go to the embassy, and it's a vacation nightmare." If you're traveling in the U.S., use your driver's license instead. "Your passport is such a primo document for your identity, if someone gets a hold of it, you can really put yourself at risk for identity theft," says Lin.
Although most PIN numbers are only four digits long, some people still write them down so they don't forget. "If you store any type of ATM password or even a code for your home alarm in your wallet, you have basically gifted a thief with access to your life," says Lin. If you absolutely can't remember important pass codes, store them digitally on a password-protected phone, but never write them down and leave them in your wallet or purse.
A Non-Password Protected Phone
Today, many people have smart phones that allow them instant access to bank accounts, PayPal accounts, medical records, and more. Even if your phone only accesses e-mail, a thief could easily search for banking or ATM passwords or addresses, according to Lin. "Think about all the things you have digitally stored on your phone. You have to have it behind password protection. This way a thief can still erase your phone's memory and use it for themselves, but they won't have access to your data."
"As innocuous as it seems, your checkbook has your bank account number and routing number on it, your address, and possibly imprints of your signature," says Lin. Lin says that if you know you're going to need to write a check one day, peel off one check out of your book and take it with you. If you know you're going to need to write multiple checks in one day, go ahead and take your checkbook, but don't get into the habit of carrying it around with you all the time, Lin says. "You want to prevent someone's ability to just start writing out your blank checks and cashing them."
Too Many Credit Cards
"A lot of people put all their cards in their wallet and carry them with them at all times," says Lin. "But if your wallet gets lost or stolen, that means you're going to have to sit and cancel every single one, and wait a week without any credit cards before you receive a replacement." Only carry the one or two cards you use on a daily basis and a backup, and leave others at home. Also make sure you keep photocopies of the front and back of each card at home, Lin advises. The 1-800 number to call and report a lost or stolen card is very often on the back of your card -- which doesn't do you a lot of good once the card is no longer in your possession.
Too Much Cash
Lin offers the following rule of thumb when it comes to carrying cash: Bring only as much with you as you're willing to lose. "It's good to have a little cash on you at all times for emergencies, but you don't want to carry so much that you're going to feel a real hit if your wallet gets stolen." For people on a "cash diet," Lin recommends bringing only as much cash to cover the day's expenses.
"A lot of people carry these around thinking, 'I never know when I'm going to be passing this store,' but chances are, you're going to forget about it anyway, and if your wallet gets stolen, it's one of the first thing thieves are going to use," Lin says. Gift cards and gift certificates are just like cash -- they don't require ID for use. "Try to leave it at home and take it with you only when you are consciously going to shop at that store," Lin says. "Make it a special excursion; it's a treat to have free money to spend."
Jewelry or USB Devices
"It may sound silly, but if you're changing earrings or heading from a business meeting, it's very possible you may forget and toss these things in the zipper compartment of your wallet," says Lin. USB devices can be bad news in the hands of thieves if they contain confidential files. "It would be horrible to get your wallet stolen any day, but if you're also losing your grandmother's earrings or a presentation you've been working on for months, it's even worse!"
Sometimes receipts can have your credit card information on them, as well as your signature, which thieves could do a lot of damage with. Additionally, if you've just purchased a big-ticket item like a new computer or jewelry, you may need that receipt for warranty purposes. "If you're planning to use your receipts for expense purposes at work, those few hundred dollars of business receipts can just vanish and your employer might not be so understanding," says Lin. "Get in the habit of taking out your receipts every night instead of carting them around with you."