Along with your teeth falling out and forgetting to show up for a final exam, losing your wallet ranks right up there with some of the most common dreadful dreams. But imagine this dream suddenly became a scary reality when you can’t remember where you left your wallet last, or worse, think it might have been stolen. If retracing your steps turns up empty, what should you do? Experts say to act immediately. Follow these steps to help minimize any damage to your finances and your personal identity.
CONTACT YOUR CARD ISSUERS
If you carried your debit card in your wallet, contact your bank pronto. Note the date and time that your card went missing. If you contact your bank within two business days of the loss, you’re responsible for a maximum of $50 in unauthorized purchases, according to the Federal Trade Commission. After day 2 but before day 60, that liability jumps to up to $500. Delay longer than 60 days, and you could be on the hook for a thief’s entire shopping spree.
Next, contact your credit card company to report any lost or stolen cards; most offer customer support 24/7/365. Fortunately, federal law caps your liability to $50 for unauthorized purchases on a reported lost or stolen credit card. Some cards even offer zero liability.
While you wait for the replacement cards containing new account numbers, you'll have to switch your automatic payment accounts that have the now-canceled cards connected to them and update them with your other active cards or make manual payments in the interim.
SUBMIT A POLICE REPORT
Even if the police can’t recover your wallet, filing a report with them can help safeguard your identity, according to the experts at LifeLock, an identity-theft protection company. The report serves as evidence of your being the victim of a crime and assists your card companies in their fraud investigations. Be sure to get the investigating officer’s contact information, and when the completed report is available, request a hard copy for your records.
CONTACT THE CREDIT REPORT BUREAUS
Contact one of the nationwide credit reporting bureaus—Experian, TransUnion or Equifax—to put a free fraud alert on your account that can be in effect for up to 12 months, or for fraud identity-theft victims, up to seven years, report the folks at Experian. (By law, that bureau must share the alert with the other two bureaus, so there’s no need to contact all three.) With an alert set up, lenders pulling your credit must take additional steps to verify your identity.
If you want further protection, you can freeze your credit report so that lenders cannot extend new credit in your name. For a credit freeze, you need to contact each of the three bureaus. A nominal fee for freezing and unfreezing your credit may apply, unless you’re a victim of identity theft—then it’s free.
CHANGE YOUR LOCKS
If you kept an extra key in your wallet, be sure to change the appropriate locks.
OBTAIN A NEW DRIVER’S LICENSE
Contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to request a replacement license (requirements vary by state). If your license was stolen, you may be asked to provide a copy of the police report.
CONTACT YOUR HEALTH INSURER
If your health insurance card was in your wallet, contact your insurance company for a new card, and request a new ID number to protect yourself from medical identity theft—yes, it’s a thing.
PRECAUTIONS TO KEEP IN MIND:
- Never keep your Social Security Card in your wallet. While the Social Security Administration may send you a new card, you likely won’t get a new Social Security Number. Guard that number as if it were gold.
- Pare the contents of your wallet to only what you use regularly. That includes keeping your checkbook and seldom-used credit cards at home. Inventory everything in your wallet, and keep copies of cards to have your account and contact numbers on hand.
- Closely monitor your credit card and bank statements. If you notice any suspect activity, promptly contact your card issuer. Thieves sometimes start off making minor charges to your accounts to test the waters, so look at even small charges. You can also order one copy of your credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion for free once a year. You may want to consider purchasing identity-theft protection, too.
And, of course, try not to panic. Being proactive can help thwart would-be thieves, and there’s always hope that your wallet will turn up exactly where you finally remember leaving it.
PEACE-OF-MIND PROTECTION FOR YOUR FINANCES—AND YOUR IDENTITY
Your identity is key to your financial well-being, one that’s constantly at risk from identity thieves attempting to use your personal data to take out loans in your name, drain money from your bank accounts, use your credit cards to shop till they drop, and commit other acts of fraud. In fact, every two seconds in the U.S., someone becomes a victim of identity theft, according to a 2019 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research.