Urban Legends

Advice on a Safe Wallet

The Legend

Submitted August 2005


A corporate attorney sent the following out to the employees in his company and had the value of his time deducted from their next paychecks:

  1. The next time you order checks have only your initials put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know what to sign your name as, but your bank will know how you sign your checks and they have a handwriting expert meticulously compare each and every check processed with your signature on file. Also, checks with nothing more than initials on them look "monogrammed" and are kind of classy.
  2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, write "THIS CARD IS STOLEN." If a merchant questions you about this, tell them that's for if a thief uses the card, not you.
  3. When you are writing a check to pay your credit card bill, DO NOT put you account number on the "Memo" line. Instead, just put your Social Security number. The credit card company can look up your personal information using your SSN, just like anyone else can.
  4. Put the number of a pay phone on your checks instead of your home phone number, and use the address of a local pharmacy or other business instead of your real address.
  5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Copy everything, including your driver's license, credit cards, and money. If you are robbed, give the thief this copy instead of your actual wallet.
  6. When you check out of a hotel that uses cards for keys, destroy the "key" as soon as they give it to you. Those little cards have on them all of the information you gave the hotel, including address and credit card numbers and expiration dates, and by the end of your stay may also include selected videos taken with the secret camera hidden in your room! Believe me, you don't want criminals to have this stuff. By destroying the card immediately, you avoid the possibility that you might lose it and have it fall into the wrong hands. If you need to get into your room for some reason, just ask housekeeping to let you in (telling the front desk that it's okay to let people into your room will streamline this process).
  7. Whenever you meet someone that you don't know, don't use your real name. This thwarts the efforts of "human engineering" hackers and would-be stalkers. By the same token, if you are working with sensitive or personal information, never take instructions from your supervisor over the phone, but insist on face-to-face contact, even if you telecommute, and be sure that when you do meet you check to make sure it's really your supervisor and not a criminal with one of those Mission Impossible masks.
  8. Never leave your DNA lying around where a criminal can get to it. Take your hair with you after a haircut, wear gloves, don't lick envelopes, etc. Using cloning technology for complete body duplication is a growing field of crime, and remember that your clone will have all of your memories, including your PIN numbers. And a clone technically has a legal right to all of your stuff. Also, because in the eyes of the law your clone has all of your rights and obligations, as soon as you are cloned your spouse is automatically a bigamist!

Unfortunately, as an attorney, I have first hand knowledge because my wallet was stolen right off my nightstand last month. Within a week, the thief ordered an expensive stereo system, a big-screen TV, a closet full of black clothes, a bunch of horror-movie DVDs and Goth-band CDs, and a gift certificate for a tattoo. I never would have noticed until it was too late if the thief hadn't messed up and had all of these items shipped to my teenage daughter. I asked my daughter about this, and she agreed that there was no way to explain what had happened. She also told me that because the items were bought with a stolen card we couldn't return them because that would leave a paper trail and we could be arrested for receiving stolen goods. I didn't know this.

Here is some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:

  1. Cancel your credit cards immediately. That way if they're stolen they won't do the thief any good.
  2. Call the police and warn them that you carry important personal information in your wallet. Ask if you can get a license to carry a concealed weapon.
  3. If your wallet or other personal papers are stolen, get the thief's name, phone number, and Social Security number. This will make them easier to track down.

Also, keep the phone numbers of these people close at hand in case your wallet and its contents are stolen:

  • Your bank
  • Your mom
  • The Suicide Prevention Hotline

We pass along jokes on the Internet; we pass along just about everything, even viruses, chain letters, and garbage that was old when dinosaurs walked the earth. Nevertheless, if you are willing to pass this information along, it could really help someone who doesn't get much e-mail but would like to.

Behind the Legend

It's good advice. What more can we say?

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