10 Things You Should Do Immediately After Losing Your Wallet

by Paul Michael on 30 April 2012 (36 comments)

This article is made possible by our underwriter Equifax.

We all know that sense of panic when we realize that our wallet or purse is missing. If you’re like me, half of your life is in your wallet. Credit cards, debit cards, ID, insurance cards, money — you name it, it’s in there. And if it falls into the wrong hands, it could be devastating. The least that can happen is you lose a little money. But you could be the victim of identity theft and fraud that could have repercussions for years.

So what do you do should the worst happen? Here is a checklist for you, featuring some very important numbers and a little advice that you should follow today to help you keep your valuables safe and make reporting a lost wallet a lot easier.

1. First of All, Is It Actually Lost or Stolen, or Just Misplaced?

I can’t tell you the number of times I thought my wallet was lost only to realize that it had fallen out of my pocket in the car or I left it in my desk drawer at work. The steps that follow are designed to render the contents of the wallet useless to any would-be thief or opportunist. But they also make life very difficult for you if you later find your wallet down the side of the sofa.

You may want to call some of the places you’ve been recently, like restaurants, stores, and the mall. People are more honest than they’re given credit for, and will usually hand in a wallet or purse if they find one.

So before you continue, make sure you’ve looked in all the places it could be, and know for certain that it has gone for good. If it really is missing, start with number two.

2. Call the Issuers of Your Credit, Debit, and ATM Cards

Now, many people will tell you to cancel your cards immediately, but that’s not actually what you want to do. Cancelling the cards puts wheels in motion that could leave you in a mess, especially with your credit score. What you actually want to do is report the cards as lost or stolen. This is very different than canceling, and every card issuer has a procedure that will suspend those numbers to keep your money safe. 

The numbers for the four major card companies are as follows:

  • MASTERCARD: 1-800-627-8372 (US) or 1-636-722-7111 (Global)
  • VISA: 1-800-VISA-911 (1-800-8472-911) or 1-303-967-1096 (Global, call collect)
  • AMEX: 1-800-528-4800
  • DISCOVER: 1-800-347-2683

If your cards are issued by a bank or credit union, call them as well. If checks (including travelers checks) were in your wallet, they can handle that accordingly.

After that’s done, make sure you get new cards sent to you ASAP with brand new account numbers. You’ll want the same credit limits as before, the same (or lower) APR, and any miles that you accrued to be transferred. 

Finally, if any of those cards were used for automatic debits, you need to inform those companies within a day or two. If you don’t, your account will not be paid, as the card will be rejected. You could go past due and owe fees, or even have your service suspended. If it’s a debt that doesn’t get paid, your APR could shoot up, or you could get a black mark on your credit score.

3. Put a Fraud Alert or Credit Freeze on Your Accounts

The three major credit-reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union — need to know about your loss immediately. With a fraud alert in place, any creditor will have to verify your identity before approving any new credit. This is usually done with a phone call to a number you put on file with the fraud alert and makes it almost impossible for a thief to run up huge bills on your behalf. The numbers you need are as follows:

  • Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742)
  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
  • Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289

4. Report the Loss or Theft to the Local Authorities

Don’t trivialize your loss as something that the police don’t have time to deal with (but also don’t think they’ll be jumping on the case; there won’t be a crime squad trying to track down your wallet). The reason for this step is to provide evidence in your favor should you become a victim of identity theft or fraud. If it happens, you don’t want to be explaining why you didn’t report the loss. Some information the police may ask you includes:

  • Where and when you believe you lost your wallet
  • What was actually in the wallet (amount of money, credit cards etc.)
  • A description of the wallet itself
  • If stolen, any suspects or a description of anyone suspicious

When you’ve finished filing the report, keep a copy for your records.

5. Go to Your Local DMV to Report Your Missing Driver’s License

Everyone I know keeps their driver’s license in their wallet or purse, and it’s something that can be used in identity theft and fraud. So you want to get in touch with your DMV as soon as possible to report the loss. Although you can call, it’s much better to have someone drive you there so that they can process your application quicker. They will then follow steps to reissue a license, which varies from state to state. You may be liable for fees as well.

The DMV will almost certainly ask you to file a police report, too, which is why step four is so important.

6. If Keys Are Missing, Change the Locks

If your wallet contains a house key, you don’t want to risk a break in. Even if the wallet is returned in tact, someone could very easily have copied the key. In fact, it’s a known way to rob a house —”lift” the wallet or purse, jot down the address from the driver's license, copy the key, then hand it all in to the police.

So if you know for certain that house keys went missing with the wallet, change the locks. You can easily do this yourself these days; stores like Home Depot and Lowes have a vast selection of locks. Or choose a reputable locksmith to do it for you.

If the car keys went missing, that’s not as easy to replace. But your car may also be at risk of being stolen, so contact your local car dealer or garage and ask for their assistance.

7. If Your Social Security Card Is Missing, Inform the Authorities

Most of us know our SSN by heart and have no reason to carry it with us (mine is filed away safely at home). If, however, your SSN card was in your wallet, you need to report that loss immediately. The Social Security Administration will not issue you a new number, just a new card, so calling them won’t help with fraud and ID theft. You should take the following steps to reduce your risk of being an ID theft victim:

  1. Call the IRS Identity Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490
  2. File the loss with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT
  3. Report the loss to the Internet Crime Complaint Center

8. Try to List Everything Else That Was in the Wallet

There are other items in your wallet that may seem insignificant but could come back to haunt you. These include memberships to movie rental stores, work ID cards and access badges, medical insurance cards, computer passwords, and padlock keys.

9. Order Credit Reports

Every year, you are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus, without any strings attached. The easiest way to obtain these is to visit the Annual Credit Report site. Then, take a close look at them to spot any possible fraudulent spending. 

10. Replace the Wallet With a New One

New is a relative term. You may have another perfectly good wallet or purse at home, perhaps a gift you haven’t had a chance to use yet. Or you may need to run out and buy a new one. You could even make one from duct tape. But you need to get your life back on track and fill this new wallet with replacement cards, checks, and all the other important stuff you had in your old wallet. Sure, your old wallet may actually turn up, but you can’t hang around waiting for that to happen.

Some Steps You Can Take to Prepare Before You Lose Your Wallet

Hopefully you’re reading this article to be informed should the worst happen. But there are steps you can take right now to be prepared. If you do lose your wallet, you’ll be in a much better position to protect yourself and get the steps above done more quickly.

Strip Your Wallet of Anything You Don’t Really Need

Is there a reason you’re carrying all those credit and debit cards? If you use one 99% of the time, like most people do, then it’s not wise to carry the others for those “just in case” moments. Carry one back up with your main card, and keep the rest at home. The same goes for anything that could help an ID thief, including SSN cards, addresses, phone numbers, passwords, and other personal info.

Scan or Photocopy Everything That’s in Your Wallet

I just did this recently, and I should have done it a lot sooner. Everything I keep in my wallet that’s important has been scanned into my computer. I keep it in a handy file on my desktop, and I’ll be updating it every three to four months. From my driver’s license and credit cards to health insurance cards and gift cards, they are all now available at the touch of a button. I also have a PDF of this file stored on my phone (password protected, obviously). If I do lose my wallet, I know instantly what has gone missing and all the numbers to call.

Try a “Lost Wallet” App

They do exist, and many of them are free. Just do a search in the marketplace of your smartphone, and you’ll find something that works for you. What these apps do is replicate the contents of your wallet, just like above, and then store the information with a secure password. Some apps also have a list of emergency numbers on hand that you can call straight from your cell phone.

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Guest's picture

Very usefull article, going to include it in a round up sometime. When I was in University this happened to students ALL the time! Not one of them knew what to do, the only good thing was that they never carried their SIN number on them.

Guest's picture
Carl Lassegue

I'm always misplacing my wallet and that got me worried. So I started using Key Ring to store all my credit card information on my phone so I don't have to carry them all with me in my wallet. In case I do lose my wallet I have one less thing to worry about. What apps do you guys use to store important info?

Guest's picture

I have had my purse stolen twice, but have to strongly disagree with the first protocol listed; the sooner you report your loss to everyone is in your best interests.

20 years ago, I likely saved hundreds of dollars my reporting my stolen purse immediately after a party as my purse and cards were ditched the next day after the thieves tried to purchase items on my card at Sears, but were turned down due to me reporting that the card was reported stolen.

Guest's picture

I think there is a difference wether you "lost" your wallet like by misplacing in in your house or office, where you probably can find it if you look for it. In your sitaution where you lost it in a public place like a party is more risky, because anybody could walk off with it. So i would agree with you in your case, but spending five minutes to llok for it, could save you the hassle of rebuilding your whole wallet if you by accident placed it in your laundry basket

Guest's picture

I'd suggest being really careful about keeping copies of wallet information on your computer. Computers are more easily compromised that wallets. Also, when a computer is replaced, the destruction of the hard disk, and the data on it, becomes problematic. An alternative might be to burn the scanned information to a CD, keep the CD in a safe place. Then seriously scrub/delete the data from the computer. Remember, the regular "Delete" process on the computer doesn't actually remove the information. Use "shred", for Windows users shred can be obtained from: http://gnuwin32.sourceforge.net/packages/coreutils.htm . My 2 cents.

Guest's picture

Thanks for this detailed step by step! Before reading this, I probably would have cancelled my credit cards! Whew! I also didn't realize the importance of reporting it to the police and DMV! So far, I have been lucky and haven't lost my wallet for good. If I ever do, I know how to handle it now!

Guest's picture

Anyone ever used lifelock,had my credit cards and Id stolen. It seems I just might need it with all this info

Guest's picture

I am a big fool in this world coz last day i lost my wallet which contains some money , debit card , voter id card , photograph , signatures and train pass. I must know that it may be harmful for keeping all these things in my wallet. I don't actually know that it was lost or stolen.

Guest's picture

Finding this article was freaky. The wallet I lost is identical to the one in the picture, same amount of wear and everything. Give it back!

Guest's picture


Guest's picture

What great article! Just going once more over step 1, I didn't need to do the rest of the steps. I thought I had exhausted every place my wallet may have fallen, yet I gave it one more shot and found it before beginning to make those calls. I plan to get a much better coat, zip my coat pocket, and/or start carrying a purse with my wallet in it. Oh - and bookmark this article in case my wallet does really go missing.

Guest's picture

I have been calling the police dept. property room in Columbus, Ohio since my Lost or Theft and they advised me 2 file a Police Report. Thks WiseBread: Sincerely Ms. Lost in Columbus, OH

Guest's picture

HOLLY Brap! I read the what to do, stuck my hand into the couch and!!!!!!! there it was, MY WALLET!!!! I just about fell off the couch! still am giddy! giddy =goo goo!!1 I love the innertube! TNX 4 The calm advice! I have no idea who or why or when it got in there but it has been missing for 3 days! 1 Google search and BAM! the answer in the crack! How you like that Ford Nation!

Guest's picture

Very useful information, thank you for sharing. Lost my wallet for the first time in my life last night, and I'm 51 years old! Followed your advice "to the letter" and am now feeling a slight sense of calm. You just made my crappy day a little more tolerable..

Guest's picture
kurt smith

You can also use one of the new Bluetooth wallet finders like wallet trackr (www.wallettrackr.com) to not lose your next one

Guest's picture

great advise. I recently had my clutch wallet stolen at work by a cleaning guy. i was angry at the loss of the cash which part I had set aside for my son's birthday card, but more devastated with the loss of pictures of my kids and grand-kids. getting the licence and bank card replaced were pretty quick but did cost me time & money.

Guest's picture

I wish I had read your informative article before a thief smashed my car's window and stole the handbag I had hidden under a jacket underneath the back seat of my car. He/she took the entire handbag which had my driver's license, credit cards, checkbook, gift cards, eyeglasses, sunglasses, store cards and a photo book that I can never ever replace. Even small things such as receipts were in my handbag. Now I can't return items that I needed to.
To make matters worse, I recently moved from California to Pennsylvania and had procrastinated in getting a new drivers license for my new state. So now, I need to have my California driver's license replaced before I can apply for a Pennsylvania driver's license. I have been dealing with my bank, credit card companies and the police for the past two days. Today, I begin dealing with replacing my photo ID. ALL of this could have been so much easier if I would have done just one of the steps you wrote about; photocopy everything in my wallet. Why didn't I think of that? I guess we all think it will never happen to us but, sadly, it does.

Guest's picture

I lost my wallet in another country while on vacation and, due to my being a dumbass, it literally contained everything including my sin and citizenship card. Now I need a job (as soon as possible) but I need my citizenship card to get a new sin card, my birth certificate wont work because I wasn't born here. It also takes 2 pieces of ID to get the citizenship card and all I have is my passport and a birth certificate that might not qualify. And it takes 6 months to get another citizenship card so I seriously don't know what to do. Any recommendations?

Guest's picture

I only wish I had read that before I realized I only came home with a lighter purse with a debt card (the only thing that has money on it), with my girlie crap and my cell phone…. agh!!! fireball is the devil… here is what i get after drinking again after being sober for a while…. effn effen effen sucks

Guest's picture

Dear Regretful, that really sucks! Good luck on your continued sobriety!!!

Guest's picture

this is a good articles with great information. I was forced to do all of these things a week ago when a pickpocket in Russia stole my wallet.keep a copy of this Article handy it has all the numbers necessary.

Guest's picture

Some really great tips in this article. That sinking feeling when you can't find your wallet or a credit card is the worst. I'm sure we've all been there at one time or another. Most people don't realize that accidentally losing a wallet or purse is one of the most common ways to have your identity stolen. If the wrong person finds your personal information, watch out. My friend lost her purse at an amusement park a year or so ago and within a week she found fraudulent charges on her credit card, plus attempts to purchase a car in her name. This worried me enough to sign up for credit monitoring, which I never really thought about before honestly. http://www.stopcreditfraud.org/credit-monitoring-services. Identity guard has lost wallet protection, which is nice, plus all the other stuff too. Luckily I haven't gotten any alerts from their system, but it's good peace of mind for sure. I've already taken photocopies of everything I keep in my purse, just in case.

Guest's picture

integrity is something people are forgetting is valuable lesson to teach their children. I just lost my wallet with my life in it and a lot of cash I was paying bills with the following day. I had the cash exactly one hour and it was suddenly gone. My roommate is a likely subject though I can not prove it. The night my wallet disappeared him and I fighting about when he was going to be out of my house. He hasn't any money and needs to move out. You do the math.

Guest's picture

I lost my wallet tonight

Guest's picture

Wonders do happen. I lost my wallet yesterday in a crowded Wal-Mart. Alerts went out immediately and all cards reported. By late last night my heart was sinking by the minute. A miracle returned it to me lighter of some cash but with all the ID intact.

Guest's picture
Kim Knight

I have done all the things that I am supposed to but im trying to get my phone number changed on my Google account and my new card number?How do I do that?

Guest's picture

Great information I lost my entire purse the other day feel lost with out it

Guest's picture

EXCELENT!! Wish I had read this before I lost my wallet.

Guest's picture

If you lost your wallet and your are a kid, you should write down all the places you think it was in how much money you had in it, and show your mom!!!!

Guest's picture

What if you do all these things, then you eventually find it?

Guest's picture
Pete v

Lost my wallet in west Hollywood or in Hollywood by a restaurant or cvs pharmacy. I did one police report in my home city in Uc but need to do one in Hollywood.

Guest's picture

What to do if what was stolen was copies of passport , s.s# of a 17 year old while travaling to México ???

Guest's picture
Concerned Victim Of Loss

Should I be worried if I lost my wallet, with only my BCID and bank card in it? I lost my wallet during a 3 layover in Prince George and can't look for it around the house due to the lack my being there. My main concern is that someone will be able to get better ID using these cards.

Guest's picture

Age 16 to 32 I always, always had my leather wallet in my back right pocket. I felt "naked" without it--but got influenced by a suggestion of my colleague to remove it while in our law practice office--as he did routinely--either on the desk or in my brief bag. Then, a few weeks later, while traversing the city with it in my brief bag, someone distracted me and stole it! What a mess! Switched back to always carrying it in my right back pocket and I have not lost it in almost twenty years hence! My colleague has "lost" his wallet at least three times, or forgotten it in the office, creating great inconvenience. Morale: Keep track of your wallet, by habit or customary practices with it--it should be second nature to know its whereabouts at all times!

Guest's picture
Bill Davis

Had my wallet stolen and cards used within 5 minutes in San Francisco. Needed to fly to LA next day without single piece of ID -big hassle, but got through. keep a piece of mail with your name and address on it, or a blank check with same info. Tried to get my son to retrieve my passport out of my safe deposit box, but only my wife and are signees so they wouldn't let him regardless of my approval. a copy of my passport wasn't considered acceptable. Tip - prepare a Power of Attorney granting someone not a signee to the box allowing them specific rights to access the box. Bank said they'd allow that. anybody got a suggestion for best place to carry your wallet?

Guest's picture

Your Medicare card lists you social security number. Also, you may be carrying your car insurance and health insurance cards. Call them immediately.