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How to Keep Your Purse Safe, Secure (and Germ-Free)

How to Keep Your Purse Safe, Secure
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Purses: Women love and need them, and some even go broke for them. The average thief knows this, too. For a quick steal, a bag in the wrong place at the wrong time can be gone in a heartbeat.

“Most people are law-abiding citizens, but a small percentage of thieves will target you when you’re vulnerable. They wake up thinking about who they’re going to steal from,” says detective Kevin Coffey, a retired Los Angeles police officer who founded Corporate Travel to offer travel-risk advice and corporate training.

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Here are Coffey’s tips on how not to become the next victim when you’re out and about.

At a restaurant

The first place you want to hang a pocketbook is on the back of your chair. But that’s the number one place from which they are stolen, Coffey says. To the left or right of you on the table or behind you on the seat is also no good. If you have a purse hook that hangs on your table, place it in front of you. A small bag can go right in your lap. Otherwise, Coffey advises, the safest spot is in front of your feet, on the floor, with the strap under one chair leg. “They would have to crawl under your table to get it.” But that could be unsanitary, adding germs to your satchel. So at a nice restaurant, use your dinner napkin as a barrier. If you have a long strap, hook it around your knee.


Handy as it is for you, the hook on the back of the bathroom door is handy for thieves, too. If the door is high enough, a crook needs only to look under the stall to see if you’re preoccupied before reaching over the door, unhooking your bag and getting away with it. The safest stall is the handicapped stall — when it’s available. “You have a solid wall on one side and more often a safe place to set your purse while you go,” Coffey notes. “If that one isn’t free, grab a toilet cover, put it on the floor and set your purse on top."

Public transportation

On a packed train, the most vulnerable place to sit or stand is by the door. It’s easy for a thief to time it just right, grab your bag and bolt. But if you’re stuck by a door, Coffey recommends that you wear a pocketbook with a long strap across your body and keep it in front of you or on a side opposite the door. If it’s a bag with a flap, the flap should be facing you.

Walking on the street

Like public transportation, “on the street, you’re more concerned about snatching,” Coffey says. Again, wear your bag across your body. If you can’t, make it a point to walk close to buildings, keeping your purse between yourself and the structure. It’s a little thing that can make a difference.

Ultimately, if a crook wants your purse, that thief is going to take it. But do yourself a favor and walk out the door with “situational awareness.” “Those who don’t have it, and they’re oblivious to their surroundings, are more likely to become victims,” Coffey says.

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Two more things you can do

Get a purse that’s hard to steal from! Thieves love bucket handbags, drawstrings or bags with no zippers or buttons to close them. “Your best bet is a purse with a flap and a zipper,” according to Coffey.

Sanitize your purse. In other words, prepare for your bag to be stolen. Reduce the number of items inside it that can compromise your financial and personal security. If you don’t need it, leave it at home. Things not to carry around willy-nilly include:

  • Social security card
  • Checkbook
  • Every credit card you own
  • Cheat sheets with passwords and PINs 
  • Gift cards
  • A cellphone without a password lock

Keep Your Purse Clean, Too

  • Disinfect your bag regularly. Use antibacterial or bleach wipes to clean every inch of your satchel, especially the bottom. A mild detergent will also work.
  • Be careful when putting your pocketbook on the floor. Though the floor can be a safe place, it isn’t the cleanest. Make sure your bag is sitting on a towel, a cloth napkin or something else to keep the germs away.
  • Keep your handbag off of tables. That goes for kitchen countertops and restaurant tables, where crumbs and food spills are often found.
  • Disinfect the items in your bag. Your cellphone is ripe with germs, and these get transferred, along with your device, to your purse. Keep it and other items you carry often clean with wipes.

Stacy Julien is channel editor for AARP Health.