The Throw-away Wallet

By Alex Haddox

I was first introduced to the idea of a throw-away wallet by my Reality-Based instructor, Jim Wagner. The premise is simple: carry a second wallet filled with misleading items that you hand over to a mugger. It may sound like a major inconvenience, but take a moment to think about what you carry in your wallet:

  • Driver's license
  • Credit cards
  • Cash
  • Membership cards
  • Driver's insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Receipts
  • Pictures of your children

That is a whole lot of data about you: your name, address, driver's license number, credit card numbers and pictures of your family. All that is tied to your potential monetary value based upon the cash on hand, the type and number of credit cards, your recent purchases and their costs, the year, make and model of your car and your neighborhood. Now this criminal who has just held you up at gun or knife-point or picketed your pocket has a lot of your personal information and your home address.

In today's high-tech world, you might be thinking identity theft. However, that takes sophistication and the average thug on the street might not have the capability to fully utilize the information. He might sell it to someone who can use it or just toss the junk into the nearest storm drain. Hope for the storm drain.

The worst possible situation is if this thug decides you are a soft target with lots of nice things that he could sell quickly for a decent profit. So, while you are away at work or at worst while you are at home sleeping, he breaks in and also burglarizes your home.

This is not as far fetched as it may sound. It does happen and unfortunately I have first-hand experience with this exact type of crime. When I was ten years old my father was working in Downtown Los Angeles. One night while he was loading books into the back of his car, he was cold-cocked and robbed. He was found unconscious dangling from his trunk with no knowledge of who hit him or which direction they had come from. His wallet was missing.

My father carried all of the items common to a man's wallet (listed above). This included a receipt for a family trip to Palm Springs in just a few weeks. The thieves knew where and when they would have an empty house. They drugged our two dogs, backed up a moving truck, emptied the house and stole my mother's car. To destroy any evidence, they set fire to our home and burned it to the ground. When we returned home we learned we had nothing but the clothes on our backs and we spent the summer living with relatives.

There was no insurance money as we lived in a designated "fire hazard area" with an annual threat of brush fires so it was impossible to get fire coverage. The laws have since changed and insurance must be made available to people living in that area, but it was put into effect a decade too late for us. My mother's car was recovered from Mexico four months later. The criminals were never caught.

Would a throw-away wallet have saved my family a lot of grief? Since my father was knocked unconscious and the mugger had more time to rifle through his pockets, it is doubtful it would have prevented our tragedy. However, in a direct confrontation that is exactly what it would do.

So how do you build a throw-away wallet? First, it must be convincing. Use an old wallet, something already carried and broken in. If you do not have an old wallet lying around, search eBay, Amazon.com or a local yard sale for used wallets. You can probably find some fairly cheap ones.

Next, it must contain convincing items and some real money. Stock it with items such as:

  • Pictures of other people's children with whom you have no relationship.
    Download some pictures from the Internet. Good sites are http://www.flickr.com and http://images.google.com/
  • At least $35 in cash.
    A $20, a $5, maybe a $10 and some ones. Do not be cheap. If the wallet does not have enough cash, it could aggravate the robber and you might make things worse.
  • Receipts with no material traceable to you.
    Receipts from places you have traveled to and paid in cash are best. Specifically, places not from your hometown.
  • Sample credit cards.
    You finally have a use for all of those "pre-approved" credit cards! Put the sample cards with "Your Name Here" into your throw-away wallet.
  • Business cards from random places you have visited.
    Again, these should not be from your hometown.

An alternative to a wallet is using a money clip. These can be newer and when properly packed can be as good as a wallet. I use a money clip as my throw-away item.

Women have a different problem in that they most often carry purses. When a criminal demands property from women he generally demands the entire purse rather than just a wallet or money. So for women it is more inconvenient to carry a throw-away item. This is not even considering that women's outfits are not necessarily cut for real pocket use. One solution, albeit an imperfect one, is to make the entire purse the throw-away item. Women can carry their cash, credit cards and ID in a man's type wallet or money clip and store miscellaneous goods and carryall items in the purse. Another thing is not to carry your keys, house or car, in your purse. If they get your purse they literally have the keys to the castle, not just the address.

The goal is to make the wallet look legitimate at a quick glance. Your robber is not going to take the time to carefully examine everything. He just wants your wallet, a quick check for cash and then he is gone. Give him what he wants and let him be on his way; it is safer for everyone involved. He gets a little cash, you keep your personal information protected and everyone walks away unharmed.

First published by Tae Kwon Do Times Magazine.