Protect Yourself Against Document Loss
10 strategies if you lose documents
Don't sign the back of
your credit cards! Read tip #6 for why, and what to do
Part 3 of a 3 part series - click for Parts
So, the worst has come to the
worst, and you've lost your wallet. If you've followed the
suggestions in the first two parts of this article, you'll be
able to quickly recover from this inconvenience.
And if you also follow the
steps in this third part, you'll make it harder for a thief to
profit from stealing your valuables.
1. Carry only Essential
Weed through all the
identifiers and credit cards and everything else that you carry
with you, and reduce the quantity you carry down to the absolute
For example, do you carry
your social security card in your wallet? Many people do - but
why? There is no need to keep this on your person, and it is one
of the prime identifiers that identity thieves need. Leave your
social security card in your safety deposit box.
For example, how many credit
cards do you keep in your wallet? Limit yourself to two or
2. Expunge Your Social Security
number from Everything
Some health care insurers
use your social security number as your insurance ID. Some
states use it as your driver's license. Other organizations,
even frequent guest programs, sometimes try and use it as an
Ask (insist on!) an
alternate identifier. In most cases, you'll find that, after
some complaining, the organization you're dealing with will
reluctantly create a different nine digit number for your use.
Your social security number
is a key piece of information for people trying to steal your
identity. By law, only financial institutions and the federal
government can ask for this number, so don't give it out to
3. Don't Use Your Home Address
Whenever possible, keep your
home address off your valuable IDs and documents - even off your
personal checks. Use your work address or use a post office box.
If someone should steal your
keys and wallet, they don't know what house is probably empty
and they don't know where your keys can be used.
Keep your home address off
your baggage label tags, too. A dishonest airport baggage
handler at your home airport doesn't even have to steal your bag
- all he needs do is note your address and pay your house a
visit one night while you're out of town.
In addition, not knowing
your home address makes it harder for someone to impersonate you
and steal your identity.
4. Don't Use Your Home Phone
For the same reasons, keep
your home phone number off your ids and checks.
5. Don't Use Your Full Name
For the same reasons, keep
your full name off your IDs, credit cards, and checks. Use your
An identity thief (or even a
regular thief) isn't going to get very far if all he knows is
that he has stolen things from a J Smith, without knowing what
the J stands for. Indeed, because it is common that the thief
that steals your wallet then sells its contents on to someone
else, by the time an identity thief gets his hands on your
materials, it is not even obvious if J Smith is male or female.
This also means it is harder
for someone with a stolen check book to know how to sign the
person's name, making it slightly more likely that the bank
might pick up on a forged signature.
6. Don't Sign Your Credit Cards
What is the first thing
you're told to do when you receive a new credit card? You're
invariably told to sign it. Don't do this! Instead, write in the
signature panel the phrase 'Ask For Photo/Signature ID'.
When you use your credit
card yourself, you'll then (sometimes but not always) be asked
to show photo ID with a signature on it (ie your driver's
license) and that won't be a hassle for you, but if someone else
tries to use it, they might be caught out by a sharp-eyed clerk,
or perhaps this extra hassle might make them choose not to use
your ID at all.
7. Ask for Photo Credit Cards
Some banks will now
optionally print your photo on your credit card. This is a great
way to make it more difficult for other people to use your
8. Keep Passwords and PINs
Separate and Safe
Some people write their PINs
on their credit cards, or on a slip of paper that they stick in
their wallet next to their credit card.
Don't do this. If - like
most of us! - you must write it down somewhere to remember it,
use one of the encryption schemes mentioned last week, so that
if a thief tries to puzzle out your real PIN, the card will be
locked in the machine due to too many incorrect entries.
And, when you're using an
ATM, use your body to block the view of the keypad from anyone
else nearby so they can't see the numbers you enter. Some
thieves will have a lookout person, perhaps quite a distance
away, using binoculars or a telescope to see the PINs people
enter. If the thief manages to get a read of the PIN, then an
accomplice will pickpocket that person after they leave the ATM.
9. Password Protect Your Laptop
Do you travel with a PDA
and/or laptop? And, if you do, what do you have stored on these
devices in the way of personal information? Chances are you have
a great deal of information stored that would be harmful if it
fell into the wrong hands.
An incredible number of
these devices are lost or stolen every year. Protect yourself by
adding a password, either to the main startup/logon, or at least
to any/all sensitive personal data.
10. Password Protect Your
cellphone users routinely add a password to their cellphone, so
that any time they switch it on, they have to enter the password
before the cellphone becomes active.
Strangely, this is not
nearly as common among users in the US, but is something you
might want to consider. Not only does it stop a thief from
running up an enormous international phone bill at your expense,
but it also protects the growing amount of personal/sensitive
information that we're all storing in the increasingly
voluminous phone/note book features the new phones offer.
If you follow at least some
of the measures suggested in these three articles, then your
chance of having a problem is reduced, and the severity of any
problem, should it occur, is also reduced. As the saying goes,
'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'!
Read more in Parts 1 & 2
1 we introduce the dangers, problems and risks that are
involved with the loss of 30 different types of personal
Part 2 we present you with sixteen
different measures that you can take to reduce the problems that
might occur if you lose some or all of your vital documents, and
suggest steps that will make it quicker and easier for you to
recover from such a situation.
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23 May 2003, last update
20 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.