Stolen Cash Isn't What You Need to Worry About These Days

One of the most frightening things that can happen is to find your wallet has been stolen. For many people, this notion is unthinkable because the items typically carried in a wallet are valuable and not always easily replaced. Additionally, in today's digital-centric world most everything relating to identity or finances are stored on various cards that are kept in the wallet (or purse).

This makes the items carried in today's wallets a very valuable commodity. Years ago it used to be people had to worry only about their money being taken if a wallet was stolen because, at the time, most thieves were primarily interested in stealing cash. This scenario is no longer the case. The little cash people tend to carry these days is not worth the effort - the thieves have more sinister things in mind - such as identity theft. They may use documentation directly or may sell to an organized crime ring.

Today's more sophisticated and savvy thieves are aware of the value of the cards, documents and other necessities people carry in their wallets. Many thieves will go to extravagant lengths to collect information to commit ID theft.

Due to this, if your wallet is stolen, there is a lot more than cash to worry about. In fact, while cash is valuable and it is a disappointment if it has been taken, at least the damage stops at the limited amount of cash carried. Realistically, it is the other missing valuables which should be more of a concern because the damage done can be significant, far-reaching and can disrupt a person's life, both personally and financially. It is often difficult to resolve ID theft once a victim.

Here are some valuable items in your wallet that thieves would love to get their hands on:

Credit Cards

Credit cards are the gateway for thieves to buy to their heart's content (or at least until they reach the credit limit or get caught first). With the high credit lines many creditors offer, if thieves get their hands on even a handful of cards, they can do significant levels of damage until they are caught.

What's in your wallet?
Credit: frankieleon via Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

The ease of using credit cards has also become a problem when cards have been lost or stolen. Since purchases can easily be made online and most stores only require a swipe with no signature check or ID verification, thieves can often make a lot of charges within the first several hours of  a credit card being stolen. Fortunately, many banks these days have safeguards where they follow up quickly on "unusual" purchases so thieves are often stopped fast, however it is still a pain to deal with.

I.D. Cards

Identity theft is an attractive and lucrative endeavor for thieves, and the cards carried in your wallet are the gateway to assuming your identity. Many ID cards list valuable information for thieves such as a social security number, address or other sensitive information that they can use to either gain more personal information, steal an identity or access bank accounts.

Using cards, such as a driver's license, military I.D., employee I.D., or student I.D., new credit can be established, attempts to access to online accounts, try to get a replacement social security card, or a host of other illicit activities.

Once an identity thief gets the information he or she needs, the thief can begin committing fraudulent activities and crimes under your good name and, in the process, disassociate themselves with these illegal activities.

ID Theft - so easy a caveman can do it
Credit: Don Hankins via Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Social Security Number/Social Insurance Number  

Government-issued numbers should never be carried in wallets because of the high risks associated with the number falling into the wrong hands. However, some people do carry their Social Security Number (SSN - in the United States) or their Social Insurance (SIN - in Canada) numbers with them. This is rarely, if ever, a good idea because if a thief nabs that number, he or she can do a lot of damage to you. Officials and security experts recommend people memorize their numbers and lock the card away in a safe place. However, old habits die hard and many people still carry these IDs in their wallets/purses.

Health Insurance Card

Private insurance, military health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or any other issued card to be used for obtaining access to health care often contain a lot of information. In the United States where private insurance is used, fortunately, most insurance companies are limiting personal information and de-linking Social Security numbers from the accounts, instead navigating to randomly assigned account numbers. However, even despite this, there are still some cards that contain a lot of personal information which thieves will find appealing.  

ATM Card

While the ATM card itself is perhaps useless without the pin to grab cash, if enough other information is in your wallet, a thief now knows which bank you use and has your account number and may find savvy ways to change a PIN. Armed with other personal details, a lot of financial damage can be done.

ATM at bank
Credit: Leigh Goessl


Prior to the arrival of plastic, people tended to carry about their checkbooks so they were prepared when they wanted to make a purchase and did not have cash on them.  Old habits die hard and many people do still carry a few checks, if not their entire checkbook, on their persons or in their wallets. Thieves love this. Figure checks have a lot of personally identifiable information printed on them, such as:

  • Full names
  • Addresses (and sometimes phone numbers)
  • Bank account and routing numbers

Experts today often recommend only carrying the number of checks you'll know you need. And if you don't need checks, keep them at home.

Stack of checkbooks
Credit: Yinan Chen/Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Other Items Thieves Love

Other items of value to consider are car registration cards, bank statements, utility bill stubs or other receipts that may be stuck into a wallet. Basically, anything that lists personal information can be an identity risk to owners and valuable to thieves. I've made it a habit to shred everything from junk mail to grocery receipts if credit or discount cards are used. Thieves often use many social engineering tactics to get what they want and even the smallest detail can provide that tidbit they may need to fool someone at a business into sharing personal information who has the key to what the thieves are really looking to steal.

Many of us take for granted the value on these everyday items because they are used as second nature and often not given a thought.  While many of these items are necessary to carry, lock up what you do not need on your person, shred unnecessary documents that are no longer needed and to be aware of the items currently in your wallet/purse so in the event it is stolen, you can quickly avoid identity theft and take steps to minimize the potential damage done.

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