Things You Shouldn't Carry in Your Wallet or Purse

Here are some items you should think twice about keeping in your purse or wallet, or avoid carrying at all, in order to minimize potential problems in the event of a loss or theft.

1. Social Security Card: In the age of identity theft, we all know that this is the last piece of information you want a thief to have. The best place to keep this card is in a safe deposit box at the bank. It's a hassle to go and get it when you need to make a copy for something like your new employer's records or an apartment application, but if your wallet is ever stolen you'll be glad you weren't carrying this. On those rare circumstances when you are carrying the card around, be extra careful, and return the card to a safe location as soon as possible. It's easy to just think of it as a piece of flimsy cardstock when it's your own card in your own posession, but in the hands of the wrong person, it can become a major problem.

2. Business cards: If someone steals your wallet, they're already going to get your home address (if you have it on your driver's license, or if you have a name they can easily look up in the white pages), credit card numbers, and other information that you don't want ill-intentioned strangers to have. Do you really want them to know where you work, too? A business card not only gives away your work address and phone number; it also gives thieves an idea of how much money you rake in and whether that address on your driver's license might make a good target for a home burglary. Leave the business cards at home unless you will specifically need them for an important meeting that day, or keep them in a separate holder in your pocket rather than in your wallet or purse. Most of the random people that you like to give your card to will never use it, anyway.

3. More cash than you would feel comfortable losing. When you can pay for virtually anything with a credit or debit card, there's no need to carry around more than $50 in cash for everyday expenses and minor emergencies (like if you need to buy gas and your credit card won't go through). It's fine to add extra cash to your wallet for occasions like going out to eat with a group where you'll need to split the bill several ways, but don't carry lots of money with you every day. You can get credit card transactions cancelled, but you'll never retrieve stolen cash.

4. More than two credit cards. Minimize the damage thieves can do by limiting the number of cards you actually carry around with you. One card should always be from a major cardholder that is accepted everywhere (Mastercard or Visa) and the other one can be something like Discover or American Express if that is your card of choice.

5. Checks. Checks contain your name, address, checking account number, routing number, and bank name, all of which can help thieves set up online transfers of money out of your account and into theirs. How often do you need (and I mean need) to write a check, anyway?

Unlike wallet toters, who have to empty their pockets when they take off their pants at the end of the day, any woman who carries a purse can attest that a purse will continue collecting items until it can barely close. Not only do women carry more stuff around, but we're also easier targets because a purse is generally easier to grab than a wallet that's been stuffed into a pocket. (One exception to this rule is that if you expect to be in the presence of professional pickpocketers, you'll be better off keeping everything in your purse and money belt where your valuables can't easily be slipped away without your notice.) If you carry a purse, here are some additional items you should consider leaving out.

1. Glasses. If you're a contacts wearer who likes to carry around her glasses just in case, carry an older pair. This way, you'll have your glasses in an emergency, but if your purse gets stolen, you won't lose your newest and best pair. With any item like this, its importance in an emergency will always be a bigger deal than replacing it if it gets stolen. If you don't have an older pair of glasses, or they're just too weak to be useful anymore, get an inexpensive second pair.

2. Keys. When my friend had her purse stolen, her keys were in her pocket. This meant that she could still get in her car and drive home, which made the whole experience a lot less stressful. Keep your keys in your hand, in your pocket, or on an elastic wrist bracelet (yes, they're dorky, but you won't lose your keys this way). Also, give a copy of your house and car keys to one or two people you can trust who live nearby, so you'll have an accessible spare for emergencies. (Make sure they don't label your keys with your address or full name.)

3. Flash drive/USB drive/Thumb drive. People tend to use these to back up or transport their most important data. You're better off keeping crucial information deep in a front pocket or on a string around your neck. That hook on the end of your USB drive is there for a reason.

Thinking about my friend's stolen purse incident gave me a whole new perspective on a topic that I already had plenty to say about from the time I've spent traveling internationally in countries where pickpocketing is rampant and I had to constantly watch my stuff like a hawk. Once you've been abroad, even when you return you can't help but retain habits like keeping your purse on the table in front of you at restaurants instead of hanging it off of your chair, or carrying your wallet in your front pocket with your hand over it instead of your back pocket where you can easily forget about it. Yet, my friend's purse was stolen in broad daylight, in a busy grocery store parking lot in a safe part of town. This is a friend who, for as long as I have known her, has always been very conscious of her safety and very cautious. She was walking to her car, purse on her left shoulder, holding onto the strap with her hand. She heard a vehicle approaching from behind and noticed the vehicle moving close to her, which she thought was just to make room for another oncoming vehicle. Then a man leaned out of the passenger window of a pickup truck and grabbed onto her purse. Though she was aware of what was happening, the driver started to accelerate, and she knew she could be seriously injured if she didn't let go of her bag. She lost her purse, along with her wallet, reading glasses, sunglasses, and a host of other things that are really just minor inconveniences but that no one would want to lose. The theives only got about $20 in cash and made some fairly insignificant charges on her credit cards at local stores, and she was able to quickly cancel the charges.

This story just goes to show that anyone, no matter how cautious, can become a victim of crime. The best we can do is to act in ways that will minimize potential losses, but we can't expect that taking precautions will always allow us to avoid loss altogether.

Now go clean out that wallet!

Photo by djloche

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