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10 Worst Things to Carry in Your Wallet

With identity theft rampant, keep only the essentials in your pocket or purse

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Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

In an episode of Seinfeld, Jerry’s neurotic friend George Costanza has so much stuff jam-packed into his wallet that it’s ridiculed as a “filing cabinet.” Walking down the street, Costanza the pack rat tries to stuff one more thing inside, and the billfold explodes, scattering its contents to the wind.

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Cybersecurity expert Jon Clay of Trend Micro urges consumers to keep the bare minimum in their wallets.
Trend Micro

Jon Clay, vice president of threat intelligence for Trend Micro, a global cybersecurity firm, mentions the episode when talking about what consumers should not carry in their wallets lest they lose valuable information. The lessons of the old sitcom remain timely in an era in which identity theft is epidemic: More than a million reports of identity theft were made to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2023, making it the number 1 type of fraud. Within that category, the top type of identity theft was credit cards, with more than 416,000 reports.

Thieves could take more than the cash in your wallet; they could profit from your stolen information, Clay says. A man in suburban Chicago left his wallet at a grocery store’s self-checkout. Even though the victim canceled his bank cards, the thief took his driver’s license and used it to withdraw $15,000 from his bank account.

“We all think we are being careful, but it takes one second for a criminal to steal our wallet or purse,” says AARP’s Amy Nofziger, who oversees its Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360.

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How to keep your wallet safe

Your wallet can be leaner — and to cybercrooks, meaner. Many of the informational items we once carried can be accessed on our smartphones, including digital wallets that contain digital versions of your credit cards, prepaid cards and debit cards. Apple, Samsung and Google offer mobile payment services. For your analog wallet, take these steps:

1. Clean and sort. Take everything out of your wallet and sort it all, with an eye to paring it way back. Remove old receipts, shopping lists, business cards, single-store credit cards that rarely get used, coffee shop punch cards that you’ll likely never fill up, and so on. If it’s not something you’ll need often or in an emergency, keep it at home.

2. Store some items. Create a safe and secure storage system at home for the occasional wallet items you’ve removed. You can put extra cash there, too. Grab cards or items when needed, and when done with your errand, return the cards to their secure spot.

3. Make copies. Consumer advocates advise making photocopies (or taking smartphone photos) of the front and back of all your cards, so you know whom to contact if they go missing.

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

Things you shouldn’t keep in your wallet

Here are the 10 things you should remove from your wallet and store in a safe place, depending on how often you need to access them:

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1.  Social Security card. You do not need it for daily use, and criminals could use it to open lines of credit in your name or sell it to another criminal.

2.  Multiple credit cards and credit card receipts. Choose one credit card and one debit card you wish to use the most, and leave the others at home. Multiple credit cards are a gold mine for criminals. They can easily charge items online or send runners to different stores.

3.  Checkbook, or even one blank check. The days when you might need one for a purchase are mostly in the past.

4. Work ID card.

5. Passport or passport card.

6. List of your passwords.

7. Gift card not fully redeemed.

8. Birth certificate.

9. Library card. It sounds benign, but a crook can always check out lots of books and sell them for a buck or two apiece, Clay warns. 

10. House key. Thieves could find your address from the contents of a stolen wallet.

Things You Should Never Keep in Your Wallet

Only carry your Medicare card when you must

To help protect your identity, your Medicare card no longer carries your Social Security number. But your Medicare number — unique to you — should be closely guarded and never shared with anyone who contacts you out of the blue by phone, email or or text or in person.

Only carry your Medicare card when you are headed to an appointment that might require it. In the wrong hands, your Medicare number may be used for a variety of scams , including filing for false claims and reimbursement. If someone calls and asks for your information or money or threatens to cancel your benefits, report it immediately to 800-633-4227 (800-MEDICARE). 

Show your Medicare card to your doctor, hospital or other health care provider when you get services. If you have a Medicare drug plan or supplemental coverage, carry that plan card with you, too.

If you join a Medicare Advantage plan or another Medicare health plan, you’ll use your plan’s card to get services, not your Medicare card. You'll only need to access your Medicare card if you switch plans or go back to original Medicare. 

If the worst happens and your wallet is stolen, AARP suggests following these steps.

Synthetic Identities: A Growing Threat

Less is more when it comes to what’s in your wallet because criminals have begun creating synthetic identities, a fast-growing form of fraud..

Here’s how they operate:

  • Any information that a criminal finds or steals from a wallet can be used to create synthetic identities. The crooks exploit personally identifiable information, such as a Social Security number — often from children or seniors — as well as an address or phone number of one or more people.
  • They combine this information with fake information to build a new identity, making synthetic identity fraud difficult to detect.
  • Criminals will often “incubate” identity information and upload and sell it on the dark web, hard-to-access portions of the internet where illicit transactions can occur. Then it can be used by another criminal to perpetrate fraud. 
  • Once a synthetic identity is in place, criminals can create accounts in your name.
  • It could be a year or more before a fraudulent account is created and longer before the criminal “busts out” with stolen funds, catching victims off guard and wondering when and where their information was compromised. 

The FTC recommends security measures such as two-factor identification to prevent unauthorized access to online accounts, but a 2023 Pew Research Center survey found that only 26 percent of adults age 65 and older can identify an example of two-factor authentification. Learn more about password safety here.

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.