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.