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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

What's in Your Wallet?


You have probably seen the Capital One commercial that asks the question "What's in Your Wallet?" To my surprise, many people are walking around with a lot of information that should not be in their wallet. This summer when I was doing a credit workshop with young adults ranging in age from 18-24, I asked "by a show of hands, how many of you carry your social security card in your wallet/" Not surprisingly, quite a few carried their social security card around. Those who knew better immediately shouted out, "you shouldn't carry your social security card in your wallet because you may become a victim of identity theft." I was pleasantly surprised to hear that a portion of the students knew that.

One of my colleagues, Susan Taylor, has an activity that she does with her program participants. She has them make a list of what they think is in their wallet. After completing the list she has them to actually look in their wallets and write down what they find. To her surprise, one of her participants was carrying around his discharge card from the military. He had been discharged honorably from the armed forces many years ago. Because his discharge took place during a time that we innocently placed the social security number on the card, had his wallet been stolen, although his social security card wasn't in the wallet, his social security number would have been easily accessible to a criminal (via the discharge card).

In 2009, it is estimated that 11.1 million people were the victims of identity theft. The total fraud is estimated at about $54 billion. Although identity theft can take place in various forms, the most prevalent way is usually via the items contained in our wallet. The Identity Theft Resource Center has a list of items typically found in many Americans' wallets. The list includes:

· Your Social Security card **

· Military ID card **

· Medicare or MediCal card **

· Social Security cards (or numbers) for any other family members, i.e. spouse, children

· Social Security number (SSN) printed on card

· Driver's license

· Credit cards (itemize)

· Vehicle registration papers

· ATM/ Debit cards/ Bank cards

· Health insurance/prescription/dental benefit card - Did it have your SSN on it?

· Professional licenses (doctor, nurse, etc.)

· Employee or student ID card - Did it have your SSN on it?

· Green card or immigration papers

· Passport

· Any bills/statements you may have been carrying (i.e., telephone, electricity, credit card)

· Birth certificate

· Store club cards (supermarket, Sam's Club, Costco)

· AAA or other auto insurance card

· Library card

· Video store card - (i.e. Blockbuster)

· Health club card - Did it have your SSN on it?

· Discount cards or annual passes (movie, amusement parks)

** Government-issued card with Social Security Number printed on it

One item they left off the list that is likely found in your wallet is your checkbook. When a theft has access to your personal information, they can do a lot of damage. To help alleviate some of the stress of figuring out what information is kept in your wallet, Susan gives her program participants homework. She provides them with a handout that asks for card information and contact numbers. As the information changes, the list should be updated. This list should be stored in a safe place such as a fire-proof safe.

I know most of you know if your wallet was stolen to alert the police, your banks, credit card companies and the credit bureaus to name a few. Susan says most people don't think to alert their local library. Some victims have been shocked to discover that their library card was used to check out books, CDs and DVDs. During the next tax filing season, it is also a good idea to check with the IRS to verify that no one else has worked under your social security number. I have heard horror stories of people applying for unemployment and being told that the system currently shows them as working.

This blog was written to give you some ideas of safety measures you can take to lessen your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft. If you are carrying around your entire financial lifeline in your wallet, you should do one of two things: 1) take out the cards/ information that you don't use or 2) make sure you keep records of all information kept in your wallet so you know who to contact in case of emergency. So, now I ask you "What's in Your Wallet?"

If you would like more information on identity theft, check out these websites:

Thrifty Living

FTC

Identity Theft Resource Center



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