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Guard your wallet against identity theft

By Christine Bilger, Zing!/Quicken Loans

For the longest time, I carried around all my wallet essentials in a tiny little ID case. I recently had to upgrade to a larger wallet, because every time I tried to open my jam-packed little zipper wallet, the zipper would get stuck on one thing or another and I couldn't get my money out.

The effort involved in transferring my life from one wallet to another necessitated a super wallet-and-purse clean-up. With all the driving I do, I live my life out of my purse. At any given time, you can look in there and find at least one to two old water bottles, five lip glosses, random papers, a tangle of phone chargers and ear buds, a spare pair of earrings (or if I'm really lucky, just one mismatched earring), as well as my packed wallet, sunglasses, and iPhone. It was time to take out the trash, so I went through my wallet and purse and took out anything I didn't need to be carrying around.

While cleaning out my wallet, I realized that if my purse ever got stolen, I would be completely screwed. My wallet would be an identity thief's dream. From Social Security cards to blank checks, to credit cards, any criminal would have a field day. I try to be very diligent about shredding important documents and protecting my personal information, but all this time I've been overlooking the biggest risk that was right there in my pocket. Here are the items you should avoid keeping in your wallet, just in case the unthinkable happens.

Social Security card - I am very guilty of this, because not only do I carry my own Social Security card, but I keep my son's Social Security card in my wallet as well. Since it's very rare that you will need to show your card, it's best to leave it locked up at home in your safe. Don't write your number down on anything either. Commit it to memory, and don't carry around anything with your SS number on it. If this gets in the wrong hands, you're toast, since it's pretty much the one crucial piece of information criminals use to steal your identity. Criminals can use it to open credit cards or get loans in your name, so this is one thing that absolutely needs to be kept safe.

Spare keys - If you've read my blog on home security, you'll know that hiding a spare key is a bad idea. Well, don't carry a spare key in your wallet or purse, either. Imagine this: Your wallet gets lost, and a thief picks it up. What will they find? Your driver's license has your complete address on it, so it wouldn't be too hard to put two and two together and use the spare key to access your home.

Blank checks - One of the fastest ways to drain your bank account is to allow a thief access to your blank checks. All they have to do is fill it out, and sign your name, and they have access to free money. What's more is that checks list the routing and account numbers, which means it wouldn't be too hard to take out money that way. If you need to write checks, bring only the number of checks you'll need for that day, and leave the rest at home. Don't carry your whole checkbook with you.

Non-password-protected smartphone - What kind of information do you keep on your phone? Mine has apps that link directly to my bank account and credit card accounts. My email has a wealth of passwords and account information for everything under the sun. There is a reason your smartphone has a lock feature. Utilize it, and be careful about where you leave your phone.

Lots of cash - Only carry as much cash as you're willing to lose. While carrying cash can really help your budget, you should only carry as much as you'll need for the day. Why? If you lose your wallet, you're not going to be able to recoup cash losses. Credit cards, you can cancel. Debit cards are more risky, but you have some small chance of getting the money back. Cash? Not a chance. It's untraceable. Same with gift cards. Be smart about the amount of untraceable funds you carry with you.

Stack of receipts - I know so many people who carry their receipts around with them. It's important to save your receipts, especially for big purchases. However, you really shouldn't carry them all with you. If you use a credit or debit card to make a purchase, the receipt generally lists at least the last few digits of your card. Clever thieves can piece this information together and phish for more information to get a complete picture of your credit card number.

Passport - This is identity-theft gold. Any government-issued photo ID should be kept closely guarded. While you have to have your passport while traveling abroad, you can minimize risk by locking it in the hotel safe and carrying photocopies with you. If your passport falls into the wrong hands, you risk getting a ton of crucial information stolen.

Passwords or passcodes - Don't write down your passwords, for obvious reasons. If you absolutely must write them down, don't carry them with you. Lock them in a safe. If you're tech-savvy, there are smartphone apps that will keep your passwords safe but accessible to you. Try downloading SplashID ($9.95, will run on Android or iOS) or Password Safe Pro or Pocket (both free, Android only).

Think before you put something in your wallet. Only carry things that won't present issues should they fall into the wrong hands. By being smarter about wallet safety, you can help prevent identity theft.

Related articles

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Debit cards: When to avoid them

Shred it to protect it: Prevent identity theft

Advertiser Disclosure: Many of the savings offers appearing on this site are from advertisers from which this website receives compensation for being listed here. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). These offers do not represent all deposit accounts available.