Mary Poppins and the Fraudsters

11 July 2008

I read recently that the average women’s handbag is worth £290. According to research from insurers Sheilas’ Wheels, women carry more than the bare essentials around with them, upping the cost of their bags' contents in the process.

Initially I thought this figure seemed a bit steep; at times my bag seems more like a portable bin than carrier of any prized – or even useful possessions.Receipts, sweet wrappers and pointless flyers I don’t have the heart to refuse, all jostle for space and reaching into the bag for my keys can be a scary affair. My bag looks pretty battered too – put it this way I don’t think I’d be first pick for a bag–snatcher in the square mile.

On reflection though, as well as the debris, most days I’ve got my ipod on me and my mobile phone so £290 isn’t such a silly figure after all.Fashion’s Mary Poppins effect on bags has also made it easier for women to store a small army in their giant bags and still have room to spare for cliche number two, the kitchen sink. The survey revealed that 36% admit to carrying around too much in their bags and never bothering to clear them out. I’m always amazed by the things my sister pulls out of her plus–size bag and with some strategic positioning, it’s even possible to sit in it.

Amidst the general paraphernalia, it would be easy for a pay slip or cheque book lurking at the bottom of the bag, to go by unnoticed for some time. And here lies the real danger of having your bag nicked: the potential to become a victim of id theft. Apparently id theft is the UK’s top safety fear for 2008, ahead of burglary, yob culture and car theft, according to new research from American Express insurance services.Whether applying for credit cards, loans and even mortgages; buying an all-expenses trip to Barbados online or hacking into the victim’s existing accounts, all the fraudsters need is an address to get them started. The booty from this is much more attractive than an ipod revealing dodgy music tastes and a near empty wallet.

Despite all this, half of the women in Sheilas’ Wheels survey keep a diary on them containing personal details, one in eight admit to carrying utility bills in their bags and seven per cent even cart their passports about on a regular basis. With identity theft costing the UK economy £1.7 billion per year it’s now extra important for women to clear out their bags and make sure they aren’t leaving themselves open to fraudsters.

The temptation to shove who knows what into the bag and forget about it should be curbed. It’s time to de-clutter. You may still want the big trendy bag but avoid carrying documents around with you any more than necessary, choose a secure bag with zips and fastenings and preferably compartments to hide away anything valuable. And don’t carry it half–open and lazily slung over the wrist.Of course us females could just stop taking half of the bathroom cabinet out with us and do what men do: use our pockets.


Nathalie Bonney is editorial assistant at Moneywise