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.
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.