When your wallet or pocketbook disappears, it's not just cash that you're losing. MoneyTips wanted to see how often people lose credit cards, IDs, and even prescription medications when they are a victim of theft or their own forgetfulness. The loss of these items could lead to identity theft.
Warns Greg Scott, an IT professional and identity theft victim, "Let's all just be smart on what we keep in our wallets and what we leave at home. The more physical identification somebody can steal from us, the easier to steal our overall identities."
We polled 509 Americans in November to learn that nearly 2 in 3 Americans had either lost or had stolen their wallets, purses, pocketbooks or money clips (we'll use 'wallet' from now on to represent these four accessories). We then asked those whose wallets vanished:
84% of the respondents reported losing cash when their wallets disappeared, while 59% reported losing their driver's licenses. Credit cards (50%) and debit cards (48%) were almost neck-and-neck, with 27% losing all four of these important items.
Among all income brackets, the lowest -- people who earn less than $10,000 annually -- had the lowest incidence of losing cash (68%), credit cards (18%), or debit cards (36%). Perhaps the less you earn, the less you have to lose. If your wallet disappears, but you have no cash in it, are you lucky or unlucky?
The older you are, the more credit cards you tend to have. That may explain why only 29% of the youngest age group, 18-29, lost credit cards. Similarly, only 24% of the oldest age group, older than 60, lost debit cards, possibly because fewer of the seniors carried them.
"It's a risk vs. convenience tradeoff," explains Scott, author of the identity theft book Bullseye Breach. "On one hand, keep debit cards and extraneous ID cards at home because only a PIN number on debit cards keeps a bad guy from draining our checking accounts. But we may also need those cards with us for ATM transactions."
Overall, 14% lost their car keys. With electronic keys that cause the corresponding car to beep or flash lights, it would be easy for the key's finder to locate and steal the target's car when the incident occurred. Sixteen percent lost their home keys; of those, a whopping 84% lost their driver's license or other ID as well. Armed with the victim's keys and an address from the license or ID, a criminal would find it easy to rob their home until the locks were changed.
Counsels Michael Zey, Ph.D., Professor of Management at Montclair State University's Feliciano School of Business, "Based on your wallet's contents when it is stolen, you must immediately file a police report, and possibly contact your state's motor vehicle bureau and your credit card companies. If your wallet contains a spare house key, you must change your home's locks immediately. Unfortunately, over the years, many people forget what they actually carry in their wallets, so when it's stolen, they might not take all the actions necessary to protect their assets and their identity."
As expected, women lost more objects that tend to be found in a handbag, pocketbook, or purse.
While men tended to lose items that one would find in a wallet slightly more often – cash, credit cards, debit cards, driver's licenses and other IDs – women lost keys, phones and meds at more than twice the clip as the men did.
We then asked:
Sixteen percent were able to recover some items, while a lucky 15% recovered everything. Fourteen percent recovered everything but their missing cash, while 9% recovered the wallet, but not its contents. While a majority recovered something, 46% lost everything. This did not surprise Professor Zey. "I would surmise that many of those who recovered their wallets/money belts with all contents intact most likely misplaced the wallet in familiar places like their home or auto. The others report devastating losses, starting with cash and continuing on to credit cards, drivers' licenses and even prescription drugs. Petty thieves take only cash, but others, as the survey shows, know that credit cards, prescription drugs (especially opioids), Social Security cards can be sold to identity thieves, drug dealers and others in various criminal networks."
Women were more likely to recover everything than men were, 19% to 10%. Men were more likely to recover their wallet without contents, 13% to 7%, and to recover everything but cash 18% to 10%.
Finally, we wanted to see how much cash these victims had to kiss goodbye.
The most common answer was "more than $25, up to $50", at 21%. But 13% reported losing more than $100, 12% lost no cash at all, while another 6% didn't know how much cash went missing. A whopping 40% of the people earning $175,000 or more annually admitted losing more than $100, while only 11% of people below that threshold lost that much. Conversely, 20% of those earning less than $25,000 annually said they lost no cash, compared to just 9.2% who earned more. In addition, 16% of the women reported losing no cash, compared to only 7.6% of the men.
Warns Professor Steve Weisman, who teaches White Collar Crime at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, "Shakespeare said that he who steals my purse steals trash and while cash may also be stolen when a wallet or purse is stolen or misplaced, the biggest threat presented by a stolen or lost wallet is that contained in the wallet may be information that can lead to identity theft, which is why everyone should take an inventory of their wallet and remove their Social Security card or other items that do not need to be carried with you each day that would put you in danger of identity theft if misused."
For Lost Wallet Protection and Assistance, along with credit monitoring, reports, and scores, plus $1 million identity theft insurance and full-service identity restoration, try a free MoneyTips trial.
For more of our exclusive data and insights, visit MoneyTips Missing Wallet Survey Findings.