You, and your hard-earned money, have finally made it over the finish line and into the retirement you so richly deserve. Why then would you risk losing anything if your wallet or purse goes missing, or worse, is stolen?
With every new receipt or bank slip that bulges from your wallet, your personal information is becoming less and less safe.
With just your name and Social Security number, even mediocre identity thieves can open new credit accounts and make expensive purchases in your name. If they can get their hands on (and doctor-up) a government-issued photo ID of yours, they can do even more damage, including opening new bank accounts. Recently, con artists are even profiting from tax-return fraud and health-care fraud, all with stolen IDs.
Let’s look at a few items you should never carry with you in order to preserve your financial safety.
SOCIAL SECURITY CARD
Whether you’ve already started collecting Social Security or soon will be, it’s good to know where your Social Security card is located. Just don’t keep it in your wallet.
Your precious nine-digit Social Security number is all a savvy ID thief needs to open new credit card accounts or take out loans in your name. ID-theft experts say your Social Security card is the absolute worst item to carry around with you.
Once you have removed your Social Security card, look for anything else that might contain your SSN – or your spouse’s or kid’s Social Security numbers if you’re the type that keeps track of those as well.
PASSWORD CHEAT SHEET
The average American uses at least six to seven different passwords, and the more free time you have in retirement the more internet-exploring you’ll do. Ideally, each password should be a unique combination of alphanumeric characters and symbols and should be changed regularly.
We all need help keeping track of them all, right?
However, carrying your ATM card’s PIN number and a collection of passwords (especially those for online access to your bank or investment accounts) on a scrap of paper in your wallet is a major potential breach in your financial safety.
So, what’s the work-around?
If you positively have to keep passwords written down, keep them in a lock box at home. Or consider a password management service, like Roboform, that can store all of your passwords behind one master login. Family plans start at a few dollars per month. A password manager can also help you create stronger passwords for your accounts.
It’s old-school, we know: keeping a spare key in your wallet (or under a doormat). But a lost wallet containing your home address and a spare key is an invitation for burglars to do far more harm than just opening a credit card in your name.
Don’t put your family or property at risk. And even if your home isn’t robbed after losing a spare key, you’ll likely spend at least $100 in locksmith fees to change the locks for your peace of mind.
Speaking of keys, be careful what you hand to the valet attendant. Experts warn, every time you hand your keys to a valet, whatever’s in the glove box [or trunk] is theirs for the taking. For example, your vehicle registration and insurance cards contain your address, and potential thieves know you’re not at home.
If you’re still occasionally writing paper checks, like some of us, that’s not going to end in retirement. Blank checks in your wallet are an obvious risk – an easy way for thieves to quickly withdraw money from your checking account. But even a lost check you’ve already filled out can lead to your financial loss, perhaps long after you’ve canceled and forgotten about it.
With your routing number and account number on your check, anybody can attempt to transfer funds from your account electronically. Only carry paper checks when you will absolutely need them. For your financial safety, leave the checkbook at home, bringing only the exact number of checks you think you might need that day.
Multiple Credit Cards
Although you shouldn’t ditch credit cards altogether (studies show people who have a card tend to have higher credit scores than those who don’t), consider a lighter load. After all, the more cards you carry, the more you’ll have to cancel if your wallet is lost or stolen. We recommend carrying a single card for unplanned purchases or emergencies, and perhaps an additional “rewards” card on days when you expect to buy eligible gas or groceries.
So, what’s the work-around?
Maintain a list (not one you keep in your wallet) with all the contact numbers for your credit cards. The phone numbers are typically listed on the backs of cards, but that won’t do you much good when your wallet is nowhere to be found. Call immediately if your cards go missing.
Retirees, double check your Medicare card, too. If it was issued before April 2015, it probably has your Social Security number on it. A law signed in April 2015 requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to remove SSNs from Medicare cards, but the change is being implemented gradually and by geographic region. It’ll take until April 2019 before SSNs are removed from all cards. Again, having your SSN on any ID you carry with you can be very dangerous.
So, what’s the work-around?
Photocopy your Medicare card (front and back) and carry the copy with you instead of your real card. Keep your real Medicare card in a safe place at home.
Experts are torn when it comes to blacking out your Social Security number on the photocopy – some think it’s sufficient to black out the first five digits, while others think it’s best to cover the entire number – so err on the side of caution and black out all nine digits. If a medical appointment requires your full SSN, you can provide it upon request from memory or in advance by phone.
Criminals know that only one in seven hundred accused of identity theft actually gets convicted.
They look at check forgery and they know that for every 1,500 forgers arrested, only about 125 get convicted and about 25 of those actually go to jail. So the risks are slim for a potentially big pay off.
“We’re committed to educating clients about safe financial practices,” said Robert Katch, Manchester Financial President.
“Your financial well being isn’t just planning. It’s also about taking steps to protect your financial identity,” said Alan Hopkins, Manchester Financial Chief Economic Strategist.
By following these tips, you can help keep your financial identity safe.