Go Old School to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

identity stolen, how to handle identity theft

My mom’s purse was stolen while shopping at Wal-Mart recently.

Once I knew she was OK, I focused on what was in her purse. Like most guys, I’m never sure what women carry in their bags. Protein bars that are six years past the expiration date? Sixteen Chapsticks because they always get lost in the bottom of that bag? DVDs you meant to return to Blockbuster?

Turns out she wasn’t carrying that stuff around. No, what she had in her purse was far worse: all of her credit cards, her address book, her Social Security card and her bank safe deposit box key.

Why, Mom?

My 87-year-old mother is feisty, and she handled this terrible invasion of privacy with aplomb. 

Now, let’s go back to what Mom was carrying in her purse. You hear all the time about cyber security concerns, from data breaches at big companies to identity theft. It's easy to forget you can be the target of an old-school crime, too.

Having your purse snatched is bad enough, but if your identity is inside it is much worse. Mom learned her lesson, which I want to share with you:

  • Security: Use a privacy protection service. If your purse or wallet is stolen, they can help make sure what's stolen isn't used to steal your identity.
  • Credit Cards: Keep your credit card numbers and the companies' phone numbers in a list at home. Carry only one card with you – not all your cards
  • Bank Accounts: Keep a list at home of your bank accounts. If your security is breached, have the numbers changed.
  • Health Insurance: Keep duplicates of your health insurance cards at home.
  • Passport: Never carry this with you unless you’re leaving the country. (And when traveling overseas, keep a copy at home, and carry a copy with you, and put it in the hotel safe.)
  • Lighten the Load: Don't carry anything you don’t need with you. Leave at home your Social Security card safe deposit box key and other possessions.

There was one item my mother didn't have in her purse that I wished she had (and now, does): carry a piece of paper that lists emergency contact info for a spouse, family member, friend or neighbor. If you’re injured and unable to communicate, that list will tell first responders who to call.