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The Paris flea market in Clignancourt is a feast for the senses. One chilly November morning I was there with my family and the last thing we were thinking about was identity theft. We split up for a few hours of independent browsing. I was in bliss, strolling through narrow passages with antique furniture, oriental rugs and art deco statues spilling onto walkways. My sister and I giggled as we tried on scarves and riffled through a stand full of new, lacy underwear. Then we all met up at a cafe with our new treasures, full of stories and hungry for lunch. Too soon it was time to head back to our arrondissment, the Opera Quarter.
It was simple enough to find the subway station and I followed my father as we approached the turnstile. Suddenly a young man jumped over the railing between us and jammed himself into my dad who was confused and having difficulty getting through the gate. In a matter of seconds the boy leaped away, disappearing into the crowd as my father and I passed into the station. It was a few moments later that Dad realized his wallet was gone.
It’s a scenario that happens daily around the world. Luckily for my father, only his pride was damaged. We spent the better part of the afternoon filing a report at the main police station. His wallet showed up a few weeks later, lighter for the cash missing but his ID was intact. He’d cancelled credit cards and lamented that he’d would rather have bought more souvenirs than lose his cash to a pick pocket.
When you’re in foreign territories there are many ways to protect yourself, even if someone’s sticky fingers lift your wallet. Consider how much of your identity is in that small package – drivers license, debit card, insurance, credit cards and other numbers. Having all that personal information together greatly increases your risk of identity theft. Here’s a few tips from Protect My Id.
1. Keep a record. If your wallet and everything in it were suddenly missing, you´d need to know what you had lost. Write down or xerox in a secure place at home all of the information from the front and back of your credit, debit, driver´s license, medical insurance and other important cards. Make it accessible if you need to call home and have friend or family send you a copy. Be sure to update the list as needed. This will help you make the appropriate calls following a theft.
Another way to keep a record is to copy and store your information on the cloud platform, Dropbox.com. It’s a free program that you can access anywhere there’s internet. Having copies of your itinerary and tickets there also is a great time saver.
2. Limit your cards. For preemptive protection, only carry what you need on a daily basis. If you have multiple credit cards, only carry the one you use most often. Never write PINs or passwords on the back of your credit or debit cards or on pieces of paper you keep in your wallet.
3. Protect your SSN. Your Social Security number shouldn’t be on anything you regularly carry in your wallet. Don’t use your SSN on ID cards from a school, library or gym as a member number. . Keep your actual Social Security card in a safe storage place for reference and return it there as soon as you can.
4. Make the calls.Call all the issuers of your credit, debit, medical and driver´s license cards. Ask for a new account or identification number. Verify that your old numbers are no longer active. Even if your wallet is returned, you can´t know for certain that someone hasn’t copied your card numbers to use at a later time.
5. File a police report. If identity theft does result from a lost wallet or stolen wallet, a police report filed at the time of theft will establish credibility. Even if you are traveling, file a report with local law enforcement. Always ask for a copy of the report for your personal records. If you later need to contest fraudulent charges or activity on your accounts, you´ll already have the report on hand.
6. Contact the credit bureaus. Your wallet might contain enough information for a thief to open new accounts or otherwise commit fraud. By placing fraud alerts with the three national credit bureaus, you can help prevent new accounts from being opened in your name without your express permission.
7. Review your credit reports. Your monthly statements will only help identify fraud on your existing accounts. To find new accounts fraudulently opened in your name, be sure to review your credit reports regularly – especially in the months following a lost or stolen wallet. A new account that you didn’t open and don’t control is a serious threat to your credit and identity.
8. Watch your account statements. Be diligent and check for the signs of identity theft in the months following a lost wallet or stolen wallet. Carefully review each account statement, including your explanation of benefits letters from your medical insurer. Call the number on your statement immediately if you find any purchases, transactions or services you didn’t authorize or receive.
9. Learn from the experience. Make sure that you´re prepared to handle the same situation if it were to happen again.
A happy ending: My father’s story had a relatively low stress denouement, but the situation could’ve been so much worse. In the years since his experience identity theft has become a sophisticated science but one that can be thwarted with precautions and vigilance. Good luck!
Elaine J Masters, Travel writer, speaker and award-winning author of Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga. Get where you’re going feeling great with travel ease books, audio and products.
Fantastic and highly practical tips – I’m glad that your father didn’t loose too much. I’ve actually heard that funnily enough a lot of pick pockets hang around signs which warn tourists of pick pockets being in the area. Apparently when we see those signs we subconciously touch the part of our body where our wallet is to make sure it’s still there – basically doing their jobs for them pointing out exactly where our cash is :S
Thanks for these tips though, prevention and proper planning for handling the situation if it does occur is key 🙂
Crazy! That makes so much sense about the signs and the thieves watching. Thanks for sharing.
These are great tips for dealing with theft abroad. I am probably a bit too trusting of people and not cautious enough with my belongings when I travel in Asia. However, I do remember seeing pick pockets frequently in Paris, especially in the metro! Glad your dad got everything sorted with relative ease. Still, what a pain!
I hope you never run into this kind of situation. Glad my dad got it all worked out. We all learned.
Great tips. Thankfully touch wood, I haven’t had this happen to me yet but i’ve had several close calls in Xi’an which reminded me that its so important to be aware of people around you. And then if something does happen, you need some kind of action plan like this in place.
Trusting your gut is so important. We were very naive in Paris. I’m so glad it didn’t turn out worse.
I always wear a hidden waist belt. My wallet just has enough money for the day in it.
Excellent practice to only carry what you need for the day and a hidden waist belt.
I count myself lucky that with almost 90 countries and countless trips I have never been pick pocketed. the most I lost was a mobile phone once in Djibouti and I can’t for sure say it was stolen, I could have left it somewhere. But living in an incredibly safe place (Singapore) i often forget to be careful when abroad so this is a good reminder
Losing a phone would be traumatic for me. How fortunate to live in safe, and very intriguing, Singapore.
Thankfully I’ve never had this happen! Also, I had no idea you were a yogi!! Another thing we have in common! Thanks for the tips!
Namaste, Bobbi! I no longer teach but have my own personal practice. Stay safe.
We recently posted about our experience with Pete’s missing wallet in Paris. While it’s true that filing a police report is imperative in these situations, depending upon circumstances there are other communications that can help, too. We lucked out when the taxi company ascertained that our driver was alerted by his next passenger that the wallet had been left. We also retraced our steps and contacted both Parisian train stations, etc. I am still amazed that many men carry their wallets in pants pockets. Recently, we observed a distracting “argument” on a train where accusations about pickpocketing flew back and forth. The reality was this was designed so that bystanders would reflexively check the “secure” place where their money source was carried. It worked. In seconds I could tell you exactly where every man within a ten foot radius had his wallet. In a few more seconds, I could have lifted the easiest one to get and exited the train.
Amazing what you can learn when you’re so observant. What a chilling realization. Stay safe.
Nice information. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for writing, Himanshu. Stay safe.
Thank you for all the tips! I really should start a record for all my belongings and cards. It’s an important thing to do.
A little list of all the important phone numbers you don’t memorize is important to keep in your wallet in case the phone dies too.
We met a couple of ladies, at the Paris flea market in Clignancourt who had been independently robbed on the Metro in Paris the day before. One lady had a back pack with valuables on her back. I think that unfortunately this is advertising. A little precaution will go along way and save all of the bureaucratic bother, and the chance of identity theft.
There are hard lessons to learn when you take off to travel but preparation is key. I’m not comfortable with valuables in a backpack unless I’m in Japan!
I appreciate your tips for avoiding pickpockets! I’m always so careful on trips, but often have to remind other family members to be a little more vigilant. Besides the inconvenience of having to deal with police reports and calling credit card companies, I’d be even more sad about the time lost from seeing and doing things that would be a lot more fun!
Your last two points about pickpockets are spot on. Who wants to waste a day of vacation filing police reports and filling out paperwork? The money can hopefully be replaced, the time never.