Protect Yourself Against Document Loss
11 Ways to protect against document loss
Don't make it easy for
a thief to steal your cash, your credit cards, and your
Follow the steps
suggested in this series and you and your valuables will be
much more secure.
2 of a 3 part series - click for Parts
The loss of vital documents can
be a crippling inconvenience at the best of times.
But if you
follow the suggestions below, you'll minimize the dangers
inherent in losing documents, and be able to recover from the
inconvenience as quickly as possible.
1. Carry Copies of Your Master
List of Valuables
In part one we spoke about
preparing a master list of all your important personal
documents. This list will be an essential help to you when
recovering from the loss of some or all of the items on the
list, and so, in theory, it is something you should always carry
This same list is as
valuable to a thief as it is to you. They can use this
information to totally take over your identity. You want to
protect the information on this master list as carefully as you
do the actual documents themselves.
We suggest that you adopt a
simple type of encryption on the data that you're recording, so
that if anyone else sees the data without knowing that is has
been coded, it will be useless to them. But your coding will
need to be very simple so that you can remember it, and so that
you can both encrypt and decrypt the information without
The good news is that it is
only necessary to encrypt account numbers and other identifiers.
You can quite safely write down 'My Platinum American Express
card number is' but then encrypt the number, before safely
adding 'and to call customer service to report its loss, I'd
dial (and then the number you'd dial)'.
Here are three simple ways
to encrypt your information.
Transposition : Swap
the order of some of the digits in the numbers. For example, if
you have a Visa card number
4012 3456 7890 1234
You could swap the first and
second digits, and maybe also the third and fourth, and so on.
This would make it (if you transposed all digits, which isn't
0421 4365 8709 2143
Perhaps you might choose to just add a number to every account
number you have, or perhaps to every digit in the account
number. Maybe you might decide to add 123 to every account
number, or perhaps you might decide to add 2 to each digit. This
would make the Visa card number above into
4012 3456 7890 1357 or 6234
5678 9012 3456
Reversal : Maybe you
simply reverse part or all of the number. You might decide to
reverse the entire number or perhaps just the last four digits.
This would make your Visa number
4321 0987 6543 2104 or 4012
3456 7890 4321
There are many other simple
ways you can make your numbers safer. Note that you need to
change at least two digits in an account number to make it
unusable by a thief. The key thing is to come up with a system
that is simple for you and then to always use it.
Of course you still want to
protect this master list, but with the encryption, it is now
less likely to be useful to a thief if lost or stolen.
Having encrypted your data,
keep two copies with you when you travel, in two different
places, so that if one is lost/stolen, the other will likely
still be available to you.
Leave additional encrypted
copies at work and at home, so they could be safely faxed to you
in an emergency. And keep the master unencrypted copy somewhere
very safe, like a bank safety deposit box.
2. Keep Local Numbers as well
as (800) Contact Numbers
Be sure to keep, on your
master list of valuables, both (800) numbers that you can use
within the US and also regular numbers with area code and phone
number that you can use if outside the US. It is difficult to
call an (800) number from outside the US, and, if you can, might
end up being more costly than if you directly called the regular
3. Split Your Valuables
Don't carry everything in
the one place. For example, perhaps you could have your driver's
license in one place and your credit cards in another place.
That way, if you lose one container of valuables, you don't lose
everything, and neither does anyone who stole (or innocently
finds) your valuables get everything.
4. Keep a Spare Credit Card
Always travel with two
credit cards, so that if one is damaged or destroyed or stolen,
or if the credit card company starts refusing your charges
(which they sometimes do if you're traveling a long way from
home for fear that your card might have been stolen), or if you
just go over your limit (!), you have a second card backup.
For greater protection,
don't have both cards the same - that is, don't carry two Visa
cards. Carry one Visa (or Mastercard) and one Amex, perhaps.
That also will protect you in case the merchant you're buying
something from has a problem with their own account with one of
the credit card companies
5. Keep an Emergency Stash of
Keep a small amount of cash
somewhere - separate from your main supply of cash and
valuables, so that, if everything else of value is stolen or
lost, you still have enough emergency money to take a taxi to
somewhere, to make a phone call or two, and to buy a meal or
two. If possible, it would be good to have some small notes -
for conveniently purchasing small items - and some larger notes
6. Keep Duplicate Keys
If you have a trusted friend
or neighbor, give them a complete set of duplicate keys to
everything that you regularly lock. This would include house
keys, car keys, work keys, desk and file cabinet keys, safe keys
- anything that you regularly use a key with should have a
duplicate key kept somewhere.
For convenience, things like
house keys could also be kept hidden somewhere not far from your
front door (but not in an artificial stone!).
7. Color Photocopies
Keep color photocopies of
important documents such as your driver's license and passport.
While obviously not the real thing, they can be more persuasive
if you find yourself stranded without the original documents,
and can also help you to convince suspicious officials that you
did once really have the originals.
You should also have regular
(not necessarily color) copies of any important documents that
you might need while traveling such as prepaid tour vouchers,
confirmations, and other similar documents. These copies will
often be accepted in lieu of the original documents, or, if not,
the information on them can help you to get replacements.
8. Emergency Cash in a Flash
The quickest, easiest, and
probably most reliable way to get cash, anywhere in the world,
Western Union. They have 150,000 offices in 187 countries -
you're never far from a Western Union agent.
Best of all, they will even
pay up to $1000 of cash to you without you having to show ID, so
if you've lost your ID, you can still collect the money.
All you need to do is get a
friend or colleague to pay money in to a Western Union office
(or even to do it over the internet or by phone using a credit
card) and then within an hour or less, the money is available
for you to collect from any location, anywhere in the world!
This is not a cheap way to
send money - it can cost you up to 10% to transfer money this
way - but in an emergency it is absolutely the most bullet proof
way to get money quickly that exists.
9. US Consular Offices
If traveling overseas,
research the location and contact details of
Consular offices before you go, and keep this information
with you. If you need a replacement for your passport, or have
some other type of emergency where you need a friendly US
official to help out, they will be the place to turn to.
10. File a Police Report
This can potentially be a
major hassle, and you may or may not choose to do this, but it
is generally recommended that if you have a loss of valuables
that might result in claiming insurance against the loss, or
which might result in liability if stolen credit cards, etc, are
fraudulently used, you should file a police report wherever you
are upon discovering your loss.
generally require this before they'll pay on a claim, and it
shows good faith to credit card issuers as well. If you do
everything that they can reasonably expect to mitigate the loss,
then they in turn are more likely to be positively cooperative.
11. Three Vital Institutions to
Report Your Loss
If you've had credit cards
and other personal documents stolen, then as well as immediately
calling the companies that issued these cards and documents, you
should call the three national credit reporting companies and
ask them to place a 'fraud alert' on your account.
This 'fraud alert' means
that if the person with your stolen identity then tries to use
it to open new credit accounts, or to change your present
accounts, there is an increased chance (but, alas, not a
certainty) that any companies involved in this who choose to
check your credit history will be advised of a potential problem
and hopefully they'll then contact you by phone to confirm your
In theory, if you call one
of the three companies, they will pass the information on to the
other two companies as well. But if you have spare time, best to
call all three to be sure! The three major credit reporting
companies and their special fraud reporting numbers are :
Read more in Parts 1 & 3
1 we introduce the dangers, problems and risks that are
involved with the loss of 30 different types of personal
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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16 May 2003, last update
28 May 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.