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Quite a few years back, I had my wallet stolen. I was in college at the time and had one credit card. This was before the day of debit cards, and since my credit card was through my bank, it was easy enough to call them the next morning and report it stolen.

Jump forward about 15 years and my wife had her purse stolen right out of her office. Fortunately, the purse was found along with her wallet and all the various cards — credit, debit, insurance, etc. But to be safe, we decided it was still a good idea to cancel the existing cards and request new numbers. It was a slight hassle, but it was made easier by the fact that on the back of each card was an 800# to contact in case the card was lost or stolen. A few phone calls, a dozen or so questions to verify her identity, and new cards were issued.

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Having your purse or wallet stolen is never fun, especially if the various cards are not recovered. Take the stress you’re probably feeling about someone running wild on a shopping spree on your nickel and add it to the fact that you’ve got to hunt for contact phone numbers to cancel those cards, and you’re probably looking at a not-fun day. Hopefully this never happens to you. But if it does, there are a few steps you can take right now that will save you hours of headache, stress and help to ensure identity protection.

1. Document important info. Record all important information on the various cards you carry — this includes your driver’s license number (I don’t know mine by heart), your insurance (car, health, and dental) account numbers and, of course, credit cards — both the number on the front and the 800# on the back of the card to report it stolen.

2. Snap photos. If you have a camera on your mobile phone, it’s a simple matter to snap a few photos of the front and back of all your cards. Be sure to check the final photo to make certain it’s in focus and all the relevant information is visible and nothign has been cut out.

3. Store this information on a USB drive. These photos and/or text notes won’t take a lot of space, so there’s no need to spend a fortune on a USB drive. Buy the smallest capacity USB drive you can find. I frequently get them handed to me by salesman at trade shows and such — all sorts of businesses give them out as freebies these days with flyers and forms saved on them… delete all that stuff and you’ll have a clean USB drive to use.

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4. Password-protect everything. Now here’s the important part — at a minimum, you MUST password protect those photos and files. Store them in a folder on the USB drive — putting all of it in a folder will make it easy to encrypt it all at once. You’ll want to Google “password protect a USB drive” to find instructions on adding password protection to the USB drive. Don’t leave all that information unprotected — should someone find the USB drive, they’ll have all your info and might as well have stolen your wallet or purse.

5. Encrypt your files. Here’s an even MORE important part — consider ENCRYPTING the photos and text files you’ve placed on the USB drive. Encrypting will scramble up the little digital bits that makes up your photos and text files. Should someone crack the password on the USB drive, they’ll still need to DECRYPT the data stored on it. Passwords and Encryption are TWO DIFFERENT things, so once again you’ll want to Google “Encrypt data on USB drive” to obtain some instructions on scrambling the data.

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6. Hide that USB drive. There’s really no point in leaving this USB drive on the kitchen sink or in your car where it could easily be picked up. You don’t have to bury it in the backyard or tuck it away in the attic under some insulation, but do try and find a place to stick it that’s not obvious but you can get to quickly. And let your spouse know where to find it as well. (You might be on a business trip, lose your cards, and need access to the information on that drive, so don’t go crazy hiding it and risk forgetting its location when you’re under stress.)

7. Update your USB drive. This one is fairly obvious — you’ll want to keep the information stored on that drive up-to-date. You might even consider putting all your important account names and passwords (such as your various Manilla.com linked accounts) on it (in an encrypted text document, of course) in case of an emergency. (Take a look at one of my other Manilla.com posts that discusses creating a document to hold your accounts and passwords for use by your spouse.)

I have a buddy who keeps all this information on a USB drive attached to his keychain. But he’s also got it fully encrypted and password protected. This is your call. I prefer not to have that information on my person, but I’ve got two copies of the data on two separate USB drives — one in a safety deposit box and another kept with a friend. Wherever you decide to store your Emergency USB Drive, make certain that you or someone you know can easily get to it as fast as possible.

James Floyd Kelly is a technical writer from Atlanta. He is a regular contributor to GeekDad.com and is a life-long devotee to finding new ways to make his work and home life more efficient.