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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

spinner image an open wallet on the ground with credit cards and receipts in it
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.

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: Identity fraud cost 40 million Americans a combined $43 billion in 2022, according to an AARP-sponsored report from Javelin Strategy & Research.

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

Thieves could take more than the cash in your wallet; they could profit from your stolen information, Clay says. Last year, 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 and debit cards. AppleSamsung and Google offer mobile payment services.

First steps

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Checkbook, or even one blank check. The days when you might need one for a purchase are mostly in the past.
  • Work ID card.
  • Passport or passport card.
  • List of your passwords.
  • Gift card not fully redeemed.
  • Birth certificate.
  • 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. 
  • House key. Thieves could find your address from the contents of a stolen wallet.
Things You Should Never Keep in Your Wallet

Advice for Medicare beneficiaries

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, text or in person.

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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).

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says you’ll need the information on your Medicare card to join a Medicare health or drug plan or buy Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap), so keep your Medicare card in a safe place.

If you have original Medicare 

Carry your Medicare card with you when you’re away from home. 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 other Medicare health plan

You’ll use your plan’s card to get services, not your Medicare card. Therefore, keep your Medicare card in a safe place in case you switch plans or go back to original Medicare.

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, says Eric Leiserson, vice president of research and marketing at cybersecurity firm IDology.

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 perpetuate 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. 

“We know statistically, seniors are less likely to take counter-fraud measures like enabling two-factor authentication or putting in place alerts with their financial institution,” Leiserson says, so when it comes to carrying identity data in your wallet, “less is significantly safer.”

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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.