In a society where hackers and other tech-savvy criminals now receive the bulk of the press, it’s easy for consumers to take their eye off the ball when it comes to old-fashioned—yet still highly prevalent—forms of thievery.
Case in point: While most everyone uses some combination of passwords, thumbprints, encryption and virus protection on their computers and mobile devices, millions of us leave unguarded in our wallets any number of items that criminals, identity thieves and the like really covet…and will go to great lengths to take from you.
So which items do you need to do a better job protecting, you wonder? Well, peel open that wallet of yours and specifically search for these five or six items, which can allow brazen thieves ready access to not only money and sensitive banking and financial information, but also your home and property, not to mention the most irreplaceable assets of all: your family and loved ones.
Social Security Card
While microchip-enabled debit and credit cards were introduced around 2015 in an effort to better protect consumers against card theft, hacking and duplication, chip cards have also contributed to a reversion of sorts among thieves and fraudsters. According to the Insurance Information Institute, criminals are again focusing on new account fraud, whereby the thief opens a new credit card or other financial account using a victim’s name and stolen information like their social security number…which is precisely why your social security card should never, ever, be kept in your wallet!
Your social security card falling into the wrong hands is a lot like a license to steal, as criminals need little more than your name and social security number—both of which are right there on the card—to open a new account in your name. For that reason alone, make sure any and all social security cards are safely and securely stored at home—perhaps alongside passports, financial deeds and important papers in a water and/or fireproof lockbox.
Gift card scams are part of a multi-billion-dollar-a-year illegal business where criminals, empowered by easy access to cards and any necessary equipment—like card readers, replacement code strips, etc.—are especially brazen.
For consumers especially, experts say it’s prudent to increase protection by taking that stack of holiday gift cards out of your wallet or purse, and only bringing gift cards with you when you specifically intend to use them. That’s a departure from the norm for many of us who tend to carry gift cards at all times just in case the mood to shop strikes us while on the go.
For thieves, gaining access to purchased or even unpurchased gift cards affords a number of options, any of which can be used to anonymously extract card balances. And it’s that (comparative) level of ease and anonymity that sets gift cards aside from higher-risk targets like debit and credit cards.
Throw in the fact that gift cards carry small and often limited balances, and gift card fraud tends not to garner much attention from authorities, either. That means there’s minimal chance of prosecution for these criminals, and consumers must act as their own primary line of defense.
An often-quoted Microsoft study reports that the average US consumer has around 25 different online accounts that require a password. And while we tend to re-use the same password for many of those accounts—much to the dismay of security experts, by the way—about 37% of consumers still forget a password at least once a week.
In the minds of many, the most convenient solution is to maintain a comprehensive list of usernames and passwords for all of their important online accounts. And while that seems practical, it’s also highly risky, particularly if that all-encompassing list of passwords was stolen from (or alongside) your wallet. Such a scenario would provide a criminal a direct lifeline to your bank accounts, investments, debit/credit cards, and other online portals.
The same is true of keeping a list of PIN numbers in your wallet as well. But here is quite possibly the worst offense—and don’t laugh because some folks really do this - write their ATM card or other PIN number(s) right on the card(s).
To be certain, leave PIN numbers, passwords and usernames out of your wallet. If you must aggregate this information, keep it locked up securely alongside any other sensitive, personal data in the safety of your own home. Of course, there are apps for most everything nowadays, too, which means you can also opt for any one of the many mobile apps which use encryption technology to securely store PIN numbers and passwords on your computer, tablet or other mobile device.
Debit & Credit Card Receipts
Wallets and purses tend to be a popular landing spot for things like store and banking receipts, ATM slips, coupons and special offers, those aforementioned gift cards, and the like. In spite of our best intentions to clean them out as soon as we get home, the fact is those things often remain right there in our wallet for weeks or months on end.
The problem with this is that bank slips and credit and/or debit card transaction receipts can contain at least some of the personal or sensitive information crooks are after, and you don’t want them to have. But don’t just take our word for it; instead, take a closer look at your next Customer Copy and you’ll likely find:
- Your name as it appears on your card
- Card type (Visa, Mastercard, etc.)
- Partial card number
- Business name and address
Armed with this info, it’s not especially difficult for a resourceful thief to scan the dark Web for the rest of your account or card number. Plus, store receipts containing the business name and address can allow thieves to infer whether or not you live locally. (For example, if it’s a receipt from a primary care physician, doggie day care, pool or garden supply shop, etc.) And from there, a simple search of public records and social media may reveal more than enough to commit insurance, benefits or other types of fraud.
To protect card numbers or other sensitive information on debit and credit card transaction receipts, security experts recommend taking the customer copies of these documents home to be shredded and properly disposed of.
Wallets and purses are common places to keep emergency items. Some, like a small amount of cash ($40-$50, perhaps), are smart just in case you wind up somewhere debit or credit cards aren’t accepted, or if power or other systems are down and electronic payments can’t be processed. But others, like spare keys to your home or place of business are never recommended.
The reason for that is if your wallet happens to be lost or stolen, a thief would likely find your home address on your driver’s license and would then know just where to go to use the key to access your property.
For businesses, the process isn’t much different. Thieves can either consult your business card—which is very likely in your wallet, too—or perform a simple, online search. Then, with the spare key already in hand, a thief could be inside in a snap.
So, while your wallet or purse seems like it would provide safe keeping for items like spare keys, it’s not advisable simply because there’s no recourse or sufficient defense in the event that the entire wallet or purse is stolen.
About the Author
Nick Mango is a freelance writer and editor whose work in the investing, trading, and financial communities spans more than 12 years. He’s co-author of the book, Traders at Work (Apress, 2013), and has consistently published content across major media outlets and the Web’s most well-known and respected financial portals, including OTAcademy.com.