If you’ve had your identity stolen, you know that rectifying the situation can be a challenging and time-consuming process.
While it’s impossible to prevent all crime, by taking some steps to limit your risks and liabilities, you can protect your finances and prevent identity theft. Here’s what you need to know:
The high cost of a stolen wallet
You’re coming home from work and reach into your pocket to take out your keys – but you realize your wallet is missing. Maybe you dropped it walking to the train station, or perhaps you were pickpocketed while you were standing in the crowded train car. Regardless of the situation, you have to act quickly to keep your money safe.
This can be an expensive process. The contents of your wallet or purse can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to replace. Below are the typical costs of replacing items that are often kept in wallets or handbags:
- The purse or wallet itself: If your wallet or purse is gone, you’ll have to replace it with a new one. A low- to mid-range item can cost about $50.
- Driver’s license: To get a replacement license, you will typically have to pay a fee of $15 to 35.
- Cash: Depending on your habits, you may have $100 or more in your wallet.
- Smartphone: If you kept a smartphone in your bag or wallet, your phone may have to be replaced, too. Depending on the type of phone, a new one can cost $800 or more.
- Sunglasses: If your sunglasses were in your bag, you may have to spend $20 or more on a new pair.
- Car keys: If you have a vehicle that is less than 10 years old, you likely have an electronic keyfob. The average cost of replacing and programming car key fobs is about $350.
- Home keys: One of the scariest things is knowing that a thief has a key to your home. To improve your security and get peace of mind, you’ll likely need to replace your locks. On average, it costs $193 to rekey house locks.
- Identity monitoring services: You will likely need an identity monitoring service to ensure your information isn’t used to apply for credit cards or loans. In general, identity monitoring services cost about $20 per month.
The total cost of replacing the contents of your wallet or purse? A whopping $1,558. And that doesn’t take into account the time and the hassle of canceling credit cards or getting replacement health insurance cards.
6 Things you shouldn’t keep in your wallet
To prevent having to go through the trouble and expense of replacing the contents of your wallet, there are some things you can do to protect yourself. A good way to prevent thieves from accessing your information is to leave these six items at home rather than in your wallet or bag:
1. Your Social Security card
If a thief has your name and Social Security number, they can quickly find your address online and start applying for credit cards, personal loans, and even car loans in your name. It’s one of the best sources of personal information.
Keep your Social Security card stored safely at home or in a safe deposit box. If you must have it with you for a one-time occurrence — like when you’re filling out your employment forms at a new job — don’t make any extra stops on the way to or from your appointment, and make sure it’s in a safe place.
2. All of your credit cards
According to Experian, Americans have an average of about four credit cards. You may have multiple credit cards so you can earn cash back in certain spending categories or because a card has a special bonus offer.
If you do have several cards, don’t make the mistake of carrying them all at once in your wallet. If your wallet is stolen, you’ll have to cancel all of your cards, leaving you without a card for essential purchases like fuel or groceries. Put only one or two cards in your wallet, and leave the others at home as backups for emergencies.
You can also use a digital wallet to keep your cards secure. Digital wallets rely on security features like passcode protection and tokenization to protect your personal information, even if your phone or wallet is stolen.
3. Wads of Cash
People are using cash less and less, and with good reason. While you can be reimbursed for unauthorized credit card transactions, there’s no getting back cash once it’s been stolen. To minimize the potential for losses, only carry enough cash to cover your necessary expenses for that day’s events. Leave your other cash — for example, what you budget to cover lunches for the week — at home or at the bank until you need it.
4. Your passport
Like your Social Security card, your passport is an important identification document. While you may not keep your passport book with you at all times, many people do keep their passport cards in their wallets when they travel and forget to remove them when they get home.
Criminals can use your passport to book travel arrangements under your name, open bank accounts or loans, and even get a copy of your Social Security card.
5. Written passwords
If you can’t remember your many passwords, it may seem like a good idea to jot down the ones you often use, such as your checking account password. But if you lose your bag and have written passwords tucked inside, thieves can use that information to steal money from your account.
Instead, use a password management tool like LastPass or Bitwarden to store your passwords securely. These services use a main password to log into your management account. Once you’re logged in, the tool will automatically generate your account passwords when you sign in, without the need for you to type them in manually. They’re basically powerful digital vaults that protect your accounts.
6. Gift cards
Throughout the year, you may receive gift cards from friends and family for your birthday or holidays. While you may tuck them into your wallet in case you decide to make a purchase, keeping all of your cards together is risky. Unlike credit cards, which have protection against unauthorized transactions, gift cards don’t have those benefits. If a thief steals your gift card, they can use it to purchase items, and there’s often nothing you can do to recoup the card’s balance.
Protecting your information
While keeping documents and credit cards in a safe place at home is better than carrying them with you in your wallet, there’s still a level of risk. If your house is damaged in a fire or broken into by thieves, your information could be compromised.
If you want an additional layer of safety, consider placing important documents in a safe deposit box at a bank. Safe deposit boxes are located in secure vaults inside the bank that are fire- and flood-resistant. However, be careful about storing cash or valuable heirlooms — the contents of safe deposit boxes aren’t insured.
You can store your items in a safe deposit box by contacting a local Southeast Bank branch.
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Information contained in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing contained in this blog should be construed as legal or tax advice. An attorney or tax advisor should be consulted for advice on specific issues.