Protect the contents of your wallet

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How safe are you from identity theft? Unfortunately, a lot of the information you need to protect is kept in a very vulnerable place -- your wallet. Fortunately, there are ways to help keep your information secure if you follow a few simple rules. Primarily, it involves changing your attitude toward your personal information, and respecting the potential for financial loss that comes with not keeping it secure. I have some suggestions on ways to keep the information in your wallet secure.

• First, don’t leave your wallet lying around. Even at home. Unfortunately, two out of five cases of ID theft is caused by someone the victim knows. Also, you should never leave your purse or wallet in your car. This could result in someone breaking into your car to get your things—which only adds insult to injury.

• Take inventory of your wallet’s contents. Try listing everything that’s in your purse or wallet without looking. Once you’re done, check your list against what’s in there. Make copies—front and back—of everything that you carry with you. Leave the copies locked safely away at home so if you find that you have to account for missing items you’ll know exactly what they are.

• Determine what is essential and remove nonessentials from your wallet. In most cases, there is no need to carry every credit card, checkbook, Social Security card, and every piece of identification. Carry only the cash you need. Limit yourself to one credit card, and leave the checkbook at home whenever possible. The less you carry, the smaller the mess you’ll have to clean up if your wallet or purse goes missing.

• Once you know what should be there, get in the habit of checking the contents to make sure you find all of your cards. After making a purchase, check to make sure you’ve been given the right credit card. And always keep your PIN confidential. Don't write it on your card or carry it in your wallet.

• After you have secured the contents of your wallet, think about the other places where your information is vulnerable—like your cell phone. By taking a small step like password protecting your cell phone, you can make it harder for identity thieves to get to your personal information. And when getting a new phone, be sure to clear the information from the old phone. Studies show that the vast majority of recycled cellular phones are handed over with their owner’s personal information and contact lists completely intact.

Unfortunately, even diligent consumers cannot totally protect themselves from all types of identity theft. If you do become a victim of identity theft, time is of the essence. Acting quickly and thoroughly can help to limit the potentially far-reaching impact. For more information about preventing or recovering from identity theft, visit the Financial Education section of MoneyManagement.org.