If your wallet has ever been stolen or gone missing, you know the sense of panic that immediately sets in. After all, we carry our lives in our wallets, from our driver’s license and credit cards to health insurance data and that punch card for your favorite coffee house.
If your wallet is lost or stolen, take immediate action to safeguard your accounts and protect your identity.
1. Report Your Debit Cards as Stolen or Lost
Contact your bank right away since any thief that has your debit card may be able to withdraw money from your account. When you inform the bank that the card is lost or stolen, they will cancel the card and issue you a new one.
If you had checks in your wallet, report that missing as well. It’s a good idea to put a freeze on the checking account so no transactions will be approved. For complete protection, you may want to close your checking account and open a new one with a new account number.
Make every attempt to report your missing debit cards and checks within two business days in order to limit your financial responsibility for unauthorized purchases to $50. Reporting between two days and 60 days could leave you responsible for up to $500. Reporting a stolen wallet longer than 60 days could leave you on the hook for the full amount of all unauthorized purchases.
2. Report Your Credit Cards as Stolen or Lost
Remember that identity thieves commonly run up credit card transactions very quickly, so after you hang up with your bank, contact the issuers of your credit cards. While these companies are usually very diligent in looking for out-of-the-ordinary purchases, it’s still best to inform them that your cards were stolen as soon as possible.
If you fail to report stolen credit cards, you could be liable for up to $50 in unauthorized charges made by a thief. Fortunately, the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) caps your financial responsibility at $50.
When you report a credit card as missing or stolen, the creditor will break down your recent transactions with you to determine which purchases are legitimate and which are fraudulent. Then, they’ll cancel your current cards and send new ones to you.
3. File a Police Report
Your local police may be unlikely to recover your stolen wallet, but it’s still important to file a police report anyway. The report is essential to protecting your identity going forward. If a thief steals your identity in the future, for instance, the police report is a record of the evidence that you were a victim of identity theft.
Contact your local police department, who will ask you for a description of the wallet and its contents as well as the time and place you believe it may have been stolen. You will likely be asked for additional information and circumstances that can help law enforcement pursue your case.
It’s important to get a case number and hard copy for records. As you notify companies of your identity theft case, they may want to see a copy of the police report. In fact, you may want to make several copies and keep the original for yourself.
4. Initiate a Fraud Alert on Your Accounts
Identity thieves can wreak havoc on your credit scores and reports. Request a fraud alert at one of the three major credit reporting agencies, which can make it difficult for criminals to make extensive purchases in your name.
With a fraud alert in place, companies must take extra verification steps before issuing new credit or making adjustments to existing accounts in your name. You only need to contact one of the three major credit bureaus and that agency will report it to the other two.
Here is the contact information for the three main credit bureaus to request a fraud alert:
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- Equifax: 1-888-766-0008
- TransUnion: 800-680-7289
Fraud alerts remain active for 90 days, but if you would like the alert to exceed that time frame, you can always request an extension for up to seven years. Once again, this is an instance that may require a copy of the police report.
5. Freeze Your Credit
Perhaps the best way to protect your credit is through a credit freeze, also known as a security freeze. With a freeze on your credit, lenders are unable to view your credit history or pull your credit report.
This action will almost always prevent a thief from creating new accounts in your name since lenders usually don’t approve new accounts without first pulling a credit report. Your credit isn’t entirely frozen; banks and lenders you already work with can still view your credit.
The downside to a security freeze is that it applies to all lenders where you do not already have accounts. That can make it difficult to get a new loan or insurance quote or to apply for a job requiring a background check.
Of course, you can always lift the freeze temporarily to address situations like these. Just remember, it can take a few days to go into effect.
The good news is that, as of September 21, 2018, a new federal law prevents the credit reporting bureaus to charge a fee to freeze or unfreeze your credit. Before that, it was legal in about half of the states for the bureaus to charge a fee, which was usually between $3 and $12 per bureau, for the service.
6. Report Your Stolen Social Security Card
Most people do not carry their social security number (SSN) card in their wallet because they have it memorized. If your SSN was in your wallet, report it missing immediately. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will give you a new card but not a new number.
Unfortunately, the SSA is unable to help with identity fraud and theft. That’s why it’s so important to place a fraud alert and/or a security freeze with the major credit reporting bureaus to limit the risk of identity theft.
7. Replace Your Driver’s License
Your driver’s license is likely the hardest thing to replace in your wallet. Without a driver’s license, you can’t legally drive, which can make it difficult to get to your job or anywhere else.
If your driver’s license was stolen with your wallet, replace it immediately. Requirements vary from state to state, so visit your local DMV office or website to get the right information. Also, bring a copy of the police report as the DMV will likely ask for it.
8. Replace Your Health Insurance Cards
Replace your health insurance plan cards as soon as possible so you can prove you have insurance if you suddenly become ill or injured. For private health insurance cards, request a new insurance card at your insurer’s website or over the phone.
Most health insurers allow you to print a temporary card on paper directly from their websites. Use the temporary while you wait for the new card, which may take several weeks to receive.
Replacement Medicare cards can take up to four weeks to arrive. Fortunately, you can print a replacement card directly from MyMedicare.gov.
If you need to replace a Medicaid card, it may be more difficult. Medicaid is operated by the states, and each state adheres to its own policies and guidelines. Contact your state Medicaid agency to request a replacement card.
9. Inform Other Card Issuers of Lost or Stolen Wallet
You likely have other cards besides bank and credit cards that need to be managed. For example, you may need to contact your library and gym to get a new card and discontinue the old one. The same goes for all other IDs, membership cards, rewards cards, security access cards, and any other companies or association cards you may have.
Identity thieves can be very creative, and they are good at running scams in someone else’s name. You never know how your information may be used, so a little effort to get replacement cards could be worth it.
10. Get Your Locks Changed
Most people do not carry keys in their wallets, but if your keys were in your stolen wallet, replacing them is important to reduce the risk of a home burglary or stolen car.
With your driver’s license in hand, criminals will have your address and know where you live. Even if someone returns your wallet in order, it’s still possible that someone could have copied any keys they found.
If your house keys are gone, change the locks. Door sets are fairly inexpensive at hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowes.
Car keys are harder to replace. Contact an auto service center or local car dealership to update your key system so that only you can access your vehicle.
11. Consider Credit Monitoring
It’s not unusual for several years to pass from the time a wallet was lost or stolen for identity theft to occur. Thieves can still try to create new accounts with creditors using your stolen driver’s license. The best way to combat identity theft is through a fraud alert, credit freeze, and credit monitoring.
A reputable credit monitoring product can help you spot theft and fraud quickly and may protect you from future incidents. Catching unauthorized activity early can minimize credit score damage from account fraud, credit reporting errors and delinquent payments.
The Bottom Line
If there’s a silver lining to losing your wallet or having it stolen, it’s that you can get a new one and simply vow to protect it better.
One good tip is to remove items from your wallet you really don’t need, especially if they could help an identity thief. For example, no one needs to carry more than two credit cards so leave any extras at home. You also shouldn’t carry your Social Security card, contact information, passwords or other personal information.
Consider photocopying the contents of your wallet and storing it on your computer and smartphone as password-protected files. If something happens with your wallet in the future, you’ll know exactly what items are missing along with the pertinent phone numbers to call.
Check out our credit monitoring product to help recognize identity theft and receive alerts to help you protect your credit and personal information.