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An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you follow the prudent and convenient measures detailed here, you'll minimize the ability of a thief to run up huge bills in your name and to steal your identity.

Part 3 of our series gives you a checklist to help disguise and cloak your identity as much as possible.

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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 instead.

Part 3 of a 3 part series - click for Parts  One  Two  Three



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 Valuables

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 essential minimum.

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 three.

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 identifier, too.

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 anyone else.

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 Number

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 initials only.

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 credit cards.

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 and PDA

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

Internationally, most 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

In Part 1 we introduce the dangers, problems and risks that are involved with the loss of 30 different types of personal information.

In 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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Originally published 23 May 2003, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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