You’ve lost your wallet. How worried should you be? Maybe quite a bit. It all depends on what’s inside it.
Depending on what you’ve crammed inside, scammers can learn plenty about you by picking up your wallet: your address, Social Security number, credit card account numbers, driver’s license number, health insurance information, and maybe even the restaurants and retailers you most frequently visit.
It’s why financial experts recommend that you should keep as few documents marked with your personal or financial information in your wallet as possible. Why? If a thief or scammer gets these documents, they can use them to access your bank account, run up purchases on your credit cards, or even take out new credit cards or loans in your name.
What should you never carry in your wallet? And what can scammers learn about you from these papers, cards, and documents? Here’s our list of six things that someone could discover from your wallet … if you’re not careful.
1. Your Social Security number: Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Your nine-digit Social Security number is a treasure for scammers. They can use your number to help take out loans in your name, sticking you with the monthly payments. They can use it, too, to open credit card accounts in your name, racking up thousands of dollars in purchases and again leaving you with the bill.
Armed with your Social Security number, thieves can even open a bank account, receive medical care, or apply for a driver’s license under your name. Other scammers will sell your Social Security number on the Dark Web for big bucks.
Don’t, then, tote your Social Security card in your wallet. It’s better to store it in a safe space at home or in a safe deposit box at your bank. That way, even if you lose your wallet, your Social Security number will be safe.
2. Your credit card account numbers and security codes: Only carry as many credit cards in your wallet as you absolutely need. Have a card that you haven’t used in three months? Leave it at home. The more credit cards in your wallet, the more damage thieves can cause if they snatch it.
If thieves get your credit cards, they’ll know not only your 15- or 16-digit account numbers, they’ll also gain access to the name on your card, your card’s expiration date, and the three-digit CVV, or security code, number on its back. Armed with this information, thieves can rack up fraudulent purchases on your card, using your plastic at retailers or online.
They can also keep making these charges until you discover your stolen wallet and cancel the cards. That usually gives thieves more than enough time to rack up thousands of dollars’ worth of illegal purchases.
To protect as many of your accounts as possible, keep only the credit cards that you plan on using for the day in your wallet. If you lose your wallet, you’ll then only have to worry about the smaller number you were carrying that day.
3. Your passwords: We get it. It’s not easy to remember the seemingly endless stream of passwords you need to log into your personal and financial accounts. It’s why so many people create a password cheat sheet, a piece of paper listing the usernames and passwords for their most-visited sites.
But whatever you do, don’t keep this list in your wallet. If you lose your wallet or it’s stolen, a thief can use your passwords to log into your most important financial accounts. If you’ve included your usernames and passwords for your bank and credit card accounts? Thieves who have nabbed your wallet could use that information to withdraw money from your bank, run up illegal purchases on your credit cards, or go on an online shopping spree.
The better move is to invest in a password manager. These tools store your passwords in online vaults that you can only access with a master password. You’ll only have to memorize one password to get the log-in information you need for all your sites.
It’s true that password managers aren’t foolproof. If a hacker cracks your online vault’s master password, that criminal can access your other passwords. But managers are far safer than cramming a paper list of passwords in your wallet.
4. Your health insurance information: Do you carry your health insurance cards in your wallet? That’s another potentially costly mistake.
If a thief steals your wallet, he or she can use your health insurance card to get medical procedures done in your name. And, yes, that criminal will stick you with the costs of these services.
The better move is to only carry your health insurance cards with you when you are heading to a scheduled medical appointment. When you’re not? Leave the health insurance cards at home.
And don’t worry about unplanned trips to the emergency room. Emergency room medical personnel will still treat you even if you don’t have your insurance card with you. You’ll just have to provide your insurance information to the hospital later.
5. Your birthday and place of birth: There is absolutely no reason to carry your birth certificate in your wallet.
If thieves nab your birth certificate, they might be able to use it to apply for a driver's license, Social Security card, or passport in your name. Once they have these other forms of identification, scammers can use them to apply for tax refunds and state financial benefits in your name. They might also access healthcare services under your name.
Worst of all? You won't even realize you've been scammed until you find that someone has already claimed your income tax refund or has already applied for such state benefits as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Other scammers might use the information on your birth certificate to create fake social media accounts. They can then use these accounts to ask your family members for financial assistance. Thinking you are facing desperate financial times, your family members might be happy to Venmo over some dollars to the scammers.
Because of this, you should never carry your birth certificate in your wallet. Instead, store it at home in a safe space or lock it in a safety deposit box at your local bank.
6. That restaurant you were going to eat at: Should you carry gift cards for restaurants and retailers in your wallet? Probably not, unless you plan on visiting Olive Garden or Target while you’re out.
While thieves can’t use your gift cards to steal your identity or access your bank account, they can use them for free meals or retail purchases. That’s because you don’t need an ID to cash in a gift card. A thief who steals your wallet can now use your gift cards for an extra treat after they work on stealing your identity. Again, not dangerous, but annoying.
The message here? Only carry what’s essential in your wallet. This always means your driver’s license and will usually mean at least one credit card that you plan on using while you’re out and maybe some cash for emergencies or tips. Anything else? Keep it at home: You want to give any thieves who steal your wallet as little information about you as possible.