Protect Your Wallet, Purse

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Computer hackers may dominate the headlines, but you face a higher risk of identity theft. Of all the cases of ID theft with a known cause, nearly half result from a missing wallet or purse. But you don't need to wait for your wallet/purse to go missing before taking action. There are ways to prevent identity theft.

Remove especially risky items that shouldn't be in your wallet/purse to begin with: your Social Security card; cheat sheets noting PINs or passwords for bank cards or online accounts; blank checks; and spare keys for your home or car. Rather than carrying your Medicare card day to day, make a photocopy and cut out the last four digits of the number. You can bring the original for doctor appointments.

Make photocopies of the front and back of every card you keep in your wallet/purse--driver's license, credit and insurance cards, even your library card. Keep these copies safely at home as a record of all your account numbers, back of card security codes and contact information.

If your wallet/purse does go missing, follow up with these steps:

---Call your credit card issuers and request an account number change. Don't say you want to cancel the account as that may be misunderstood as meaning your want to close it which could inconvenience you and hurt your credit score.

---File a report with your hometown police department and the one where you think your wallet/purse went missing. Get a copy of the report and send duplicates to your bank and credit reporting bureaus.

---Alert your bank to change PINs, cancel your missing ATM card and obtain a new one. Get a new checking account number if your checkbook is missing.

---Place a fraud alert or security freeze on your file at the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Alerts are free for everyone; freezes are more secure and sometimes free for people 65 and older.

---Contact your DMV about a replacement driver's license and ask that a stolen/lost warning be placed in your file.

---Ask private medical insurers for a replacement account number to avoid insurance fraud. Call Medicare. Notify your auto insurer to make sure you'll avoid problems if the thief makes an accident claim from your policy. Ask if your homeowners's policy includes ID theft protection. Some do.

---Check your credit report about two weeks after the lost of a wallet/purse. To get a free report visit annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228 toll free. Recheck your credit report two to three months later.

It pays to be prepared.