5 Crucial Lessons I Learned by Losing My Wallet in a Cab

how to avoid identity theftA couple of summers ago, I thought I was going to have to recreate my entire financial life from scratch.

There I was, seated by the bar at nearly 10 p.m., reaching into my purse for my wallet so I could pay our dinner tab — and discovered it wasn’t there. Panic set in immediately and I dropped to my hands and knees hoping to find my wallet under the table or another patron’s chair.No luck.

I retraced my steps from the evening, called the police, called the cab company that had dropped us off that night. No one had seen my wallet (allegedly, I thought to myself) and I was sure my bank accounts had already been emptied.

How to Avoid Identity Theft When You Lose Your Wallet

I did get my wallet back the next day with no harm done, but in the 12 hours between that first realization and when my wallet was handed back to me, I was taught five very important financial safety lessons.

1. Don’t keep bank account information in your wallet!

Common sense, right? Well, even the best of us make poor decisions every now and then, including keeping highly sensitive banking information in our wallets.

While taking mental inventory of everything in my wallet, I realized I had left a piece of paper with my checking and savings account numbers on it that my bank had provided when I opened the accounts. That little piece of paper, tucked in a slot behind several cards, all but forgotten, was now identity theft gold just waiting to be found.

I felt pretty stupid when I realized that I left my personal bank account numbers right there, in my wallet, along with my debit card and ID. Then again, I thought I wasn’t the type of person who goes around losing her wallet.

2. Ensure you’re signed up for mobile banking.

When I confirmed my wallet was gone, I didn’t want to immediately begin canceling cards in case someone had found my wallet and planned to return it. Instead, I logged on to my mobile banking accounts via my phone and checked the activity in each — nothing. At least if my wallet was, in fact, in someone else’s hands, they weren’t attempting to spend any of my money … yet.

Mobile banking is excellent for keeping tabs on your bank accounts and reviewing recent charges. Even if you haven’t lost your wallet, periodically checking in on your savings or credit card accounts can keep you up to date on balances and catch any questionable transactions right away. And if you do lose your wallet, go ahead and cancel those cards if it isn’t returned by the following morning.

3. Shred old credit cards.

Like keeping bank account information inside your wallet, among the things not to carry in your wallet are expired credit cards, which serve as additional tools for identity thieves to use.

While an old card should have a different expiration date and security code than its replacement, it will usually have the same card number — which you definitely don’t want anyone else to have. Granted, your current cards are just as vulnerable to theft when your wallet has gone missing, but you never know whether that good samaritan decided to swipe an expired credit card to be used later.

4. Keep a business card behind your ID.

This was my saving grace: Within a wad of photos, movie tickets and coupons was one business card left over from a recent conference, and it was this card that the person who found my wallet sitting in the back of a cab used to contact me and let me know where to pick it up.

I’ve learned a business card is one of the most important things to keep in your wallet and is ideal because it provides your business address, phone number and e-mail — information readily available to anyone interested in finding it — protecting your personal information from strangers but still providing a reliable way for others to contact you if needed.

5. What goes around comes around.

Honesty is a rare quality these days and should be rewarded. I was already astounded when someone bothered to rescue my wallet from that cab and contact me, personally ensuring my belongings were returned rather than leaving it up to the driver. But when I opened my returned wallet to find that every single dollar was still there, I knew I was blessed to meet one of the few truly honest men in existence.

If you ever find a lost wallet or money, return it to the owner. And if it’s you who is fortunate enough to have your missing money returned to you, be sure to generously compensate the person who finds it for their trouble and incredible integrity with a cash reward. Karma!

Photo courtesy of roland