10 Things You Should Do Immediately After Losing Your Wallet
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:
- Call the IRS Identity Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490
- File the loss with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT
- 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.