Protect Yourself Against Document Loss
Potential Problems with 30 different
types of information
Most of us keep almost
everything essential in our wallet (or purse) meaning that
if we lose this single item, we lose almost everything of
value, all at the same time!
1 of a 3 part series - click for Parts
You're traveling somewhere and
lose your wallet. All of a sudden, you find yourself without
tickets, without credit cards, without ID, and perhaps without
any money, and minus your passport, too.
If that happened to you, - and
it happens to tens of thousands of people, every day - what
would you do?
Are you prepared for such a disaster?
Where Problems Can Occur
Although you are more 'at
risk' and more vulnerable when away from your home city, and
substantially more so when out of your home country, theft or
innocent document loss can occur anywhere at any time.
Don't wait until your next
out of town or overseas trip to work through the material in
these two articles. Do it today!
Valuable Things that can be
You should understand what
you need to protect. Sure, we all know about the danger of
losing a credit card, but you probably have a very wide range of
items that could be stolen and which might be difficult to
replace, or which could massively inconvenience you if lost.
The first thing to do is
make an inventory of everything that could possibly be lost or
stolen. Go through your wallet, go through your pockets, go
through your handbag, go through your briefcase, go through your
desk, go through your car, and so on, building up as long a list
as possible of items of value that might be stolen.
By way of example, here are
30 (!) different categories of things that might end up on your
Visas (if not fixed into
passport), Green cards, etc
Other ID's, Licenses, Permits
Social Security Card
Health Insurance Cards
Vehicle Insurance Cards
Check Books (for banks, S&Ls,
Money Market Accounts, etc)
Other Account cards
Phone Calling Cards
Store and Other Discount
Prepaid stored value cards
Keys (to house, car, filing
cabinets, desks, safes, etc)
Tickets and vouchers
Passwords and Access Codes
Other personal information
Now go and make your own
list of everything you have, perhaps using the above headings as
A Master List of Your Valuable
As you build your inventory
of items above, write down also information for each item such
as your account number or other identifier, and contact phone
numbers for the organization that issued you with the item (both
toll-free and direct numbers so you can telephone either within
the US or internationally) plus any other information you might
think to be helpful if trying to get a duplicate document, or to
cancel the document if it is lost or stolen.
This master list - with a
very important modifier to it that we'll discuss in part two
- can become your emergency resource if anything subsequently
Protect your master list in
its present form, because anyone who gets unauthorized access to
this document can use it to take over your identity.
Keep Your Master List Up to
Once you've prepared your
master list, you should subsequently review and update it,
perhaps once every 3 - 6 months, depending on how regularly your
personal documents evolve.
Remember that you're all the
time renewing credit cards that expire, and probably also simply
canceling some cards and adding new cards and in other ways
evolving your personal profile, so make sure your master list
remains accurate and helpful.
You are At Risk from more than
Just as there are a wide
range of items you have that are at risk, the nature of the risk
also varies widely.
Note also that your risk is
not just from theft. You might also innocently lose something,
or you might break something or in any other way cause something
to stop working. Or you might have items destroyed (in the wash,
in a fire, or however) and not know what you'd lost or who to
contact to replace it.
Another example would be an
ATM card with an unreadable magnetic stripe - this is just as
useless to you when you urgently need more cash as is a lost or
A lost driver's license is
going to give you the same problems as a stolen one when you're
trying to rent a car and are unable to produce your license (or
when you're stopped by a state trooper!).
More than just Financial
Imagine this - you lose your
documents while somewhere overseas. You have no passport, no
airline ticket, and no visa for your stay in that country, as
well as no money and no credit cards.
Perhaps you then get
randomly stopped for a document check, and all of a sudden you
find yourself arrested for having no documents (this happens
commonly in some countries).
Or, perhaps you keep out of
jail in the meantime, but by the time you've managed to get a
new passport and some money, your original (now lost) visa has
expired. How do you think you're going to persuade the
authorities to let you leave their country without a visa to
show your lawful admittance to the country in the first place,
let alone with whatever visa you had having already expired? In
some countries you need to show your visa not only to be granted
permission to enter the country but also to be granted
permission to leave the country, too!
Or maybe you find yourself
with no money and no credit cards, and you're stuck in a country
that doesn't allow you to make collect calls back home to the
Or maybe you need some type
of regular prescription medicine, and you've lost both your
personal supply and also your prescription for refills.
Your personal 'Disaster
Plan' has to plan for these situations and have pre-developed
solutions to all foreseeable problems that might arise. We give
you advice on how to respond to such solutions in part two of
The information in your
wallet, purse, briefcase and elsewhere can, in many different
ways, cause you to lose a great deal more than just some simple
cash. The worst case scenario doesn't bear thinking about -
ending up a victim of 'identity theft', whereby a person takes
over your entire identity.
According to a GAO study, as
many as 750,000 Americans suffer some form of identity theft
In its simplest and least
bad form, identity theft means financial identity theft. The
thief gets brand new credit cards issued in your name but sent
to their address. All of a sudden, you might find yourself with
massive debts that you'll be struggling to prove are not truly
your responsibility, destroyed credit, and ongoing problems for
months to come.
But this is the 'best case'
example of identity theft. The worst example can not only have
your credit ruined, but see you in jail indefinitely. A thief
can build himself an entirely new identity - your identity - and
then, if ever arrested, use your identity. The next thing you
know, you have a criminal record.
Worse still, the thief will
likely end up with arrest warrants and/or unpaid judgments
outstanding in your name. An innocent traffic stop or other
encounter with the police might end up in an overnight or longer
period of time in jail while you struggle to prove that you are
not you (or that you are you, depending on the point of view of
the person you're talking to!).
Some people have been
arrested multiple times (more than ten), and each time have been
locked up for more than 24 hours while struggling to repeatedly
prove that they are not the person wanted on the arrest warrant.
Or the damage can be more
subtle. Perhaps an illegal immigrant takes over your identity,
and then starts moving from job to job, doing poorly, and
building up a bad employment history. You apply for a job
somewhere and all you know is that you don't get the job. What
you don't know is that your potential new employer did a
database search on you and uncovered 'your' bad past employment
record; saw that it did not match up with your resume, and
decided you must be lying and so chose not to proceed with
Identity theft can be hard
to detect, and even harder to undo. These websites have helpful
information about what to do if you find yourself a victim of
Read more in Parts 2 & 3
Part 2 we present you with sixteen
different measures that you can take to reduce the problems that
might occur if you lose some or all of your vital documents, and
suggest steps that will make it quicker and easier for you to
recover from such a situation.
Part 3 we suggest easy steps you can take
to reduce the harm that might occur if someone does get your
vital documents and ID. By following these strategies, there is
less likelihood of you suffering ID or any other type of theft.
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9 May 2003, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.