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9 Things Retirees Should Never Keep in Their Wallets

Apr. 27, 2018 Kiplinger

You and your hard-earned savings have finally made it to retirement. Why risk losing anything if your wallet goes missing or is stolen?

Because with every new bank slip that bulges from the seams, your personal information is getting less and less safe. With just your name and Social Security number, identity thieves can open new credit accounts and make costly purchases in your name. If they can get their hands on (and doctor) a government-issued photo ID of yours, they can do even more damage, including opening new bank accounts. These days, con artists are even profiting from tax-return fraud and health-care fraud, all with stolen IDs.

We talked with consumer-protection advocates to identify the nine things retirees should purge from their wallets immediately. And when you’re finished, take a moment to photocopy everything you’ve left inside your wallet, front and back. Stash the copies in a secure location. The last thing you want to be wondering as you’re reporting a stolen wallet is, “What exactly did I have in there?”

Social Security Card

Whether you’ve already started collecting Social Security or soon will, it’s good to know where your Social Security card is located. Just don’t locate it in your wallet.

Your 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.

Once you’ve removed your card, look for anything else that may contain your SSN — or your spouse’s or children’s Social Security numbers (some of us stow those away, too). Since December 2005, states can no longer display your Social Security number on newly issued driver’s licenses, state ID cards and motor-vehicle registrations. Some of us old-timers may still have an older photo ID, plus some states issue motor-vehicle licenses for 10-year periods. What to do? Request a new card prior to the expiration date. There might be an additional fee, but it’s worth it to protect your identity.

Password Cheat Sheet

The average American uses at least seven different passwords, and the more free time you have in retirement may find you web-surfing even more. Ideally, each of those passwords should be a unique combination of letters, numbers and symbols, and you should change them regularly. Is it any wonder we need help keeping track of them all?

However, carrying your ATM card’s PIN number and a collection of passwords (especially those for online access to banking and investment accounts) on a scrap of paper in your wallet is a prescription for financial disaster.

If you have to keep passwords jotted down somewhere, keep them in a locked box in your house. Or consider a password management service, such as LastPass that will store all of your passwords behind one master login—the only password you’ll need to remember. Family plans start at $4 per month. A password manager can also help you create strong, unique passwords for each of your accounts. Passwords generated by the service will still be long, unpredictable and impossible to remember. But that’s okay because you’ll never need to type them in yourself.

To add another layer of security, enable two-factor or multistep authentication on any account that allows you to. You’ll enter your username and password as usual, but the account will then confirm your identity by asking you to enter a code that has been sent to your smartphone or e-mail address. The extra step deters hackers, and you’ll know if an intruder attempts to log in with your password.

Spare Keys

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 property and family at risk. And even if your home isn’t robbed after losing a spare key, you’ll likely spend $100 or more in locksmith fees to change the locks for peace of mind.

And, speaking of keys, be careful what you hand to the valet while out and about enjoying your retirement, warns Adam Levin, chairman and cofounder of Identity Theft 911. “Remember that every time you stop and hand your key to a valet, depending on what’s in the glove box [or trunk], you are making yourself vulnerable.” For example, your vehicle registration and insurance cards contain your address, and potential thieves know you’re not home.

Instead, keep your spare keys with a trusted relative or friend. If you’re ever locked out, it may take a little bit longer to retrieve your backup key, but that’s a minor inconvenience compared to the alternatives.

Paper Checks

If you’re still occasionally writing paper checks, like some of us, that’s not going to end in retirement. However, know this: 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 financial loss, perhaps long after you’ve canceled and forgotten about it. With the routing number and account number on your check, anybody could attempt to transfer funds from your account electronically.

Only carry paper checks when you will absolutely need them. And leave the checkbook at home, bringing only the exact number of checks you anticipate needing that day.

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