How to Increase the Chance of Someone Returning Your Lost Wallet

By Paul Michael. Last updated 22 February 2010. 10 comments

It’s not a fun feeling. You’ve reached the checkout at the grocery store, you feel into your pocket, or purse, and realize that your wallet is missing. You heart stops, you walk out without your shopping and proceed to panic. But there is one way you can significantly increase the chance of your wallet being returned intact.

If you’re like me, your life is in your wallet. From various forms of I.D. and insurance cards, to credit and bank cards, business cards, receipts and all sorts of other junk, my wallet is a portable filing cabinet. And to lose it is to lose your mind, at least for a while.

But what could you put in your wallet to dramatically increase the chances of getting it back? As Richard Wiseman, a psychologist found out, the answer was surprisingly simple – baby pictures.

As The Times reported on July 11 hundreds of wallets were distributed around Edinburgh, with different photos and contents.

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, and his team inserted one of four photographs behind a clear plastic window inside, showing either a smiling baby, a cute puppy, a happy family or a contented elderly couple. Some wallets had no image and some had charity papers inside.

The results were conclusive. The wallets containing the baby pictures won by a landslide. A staggering 9 out of 10 wallets were returned. And when there was nothing in there at all, except the usual cards and cash, just 1 in 7 wallets came back to the owners.

Here are the results in full:

The baby photograph wallets had the highest return rate, with 88 per cent of the 40 being sent back. Next came the puppy, the family and the elderly couple, with 53 per cent, 48 and 28 respectively. At 20 per cent and 15, the charity card and control wallets had the lowest return rates.

So, why the massive difference between results? This all seems to be related to evolution:

..the result reflects a compassionate instinct towards vulnerable infants that people have evolved to ensure the survival of future generations. “The baby kicked off a caring feeling in people, which is not surprising from an evolutionary perspective,” he said.

Fortunately, I already have baby pictures in my wallet, of my two little girls. But what if you don’t? You could always ask a relative for a great picture of your niece, nephew or grandkid. But if you don’t have any of those options open to you, Dr. Wiseman has some sound advice: cheat.

“If you want to increase the chances of your wallet being returned if lost, obtain a photograph of the cutest baby you can find, and ensure that it is prominently displayed,” he said.

And if the worst should happen and your wallet does go missing, it’s wise not to wait for its return, even if it is showcasing the cutest baby on the planet. The FDIC Money Smart Education Program offers the following step-by-step advice:

1. File a police report.
Your bank and credit reporting agencies will need a copy of this report and its case number. Explain the following:

  • When you first noticed your wallet missing
  • Where you think it was lost or stolen
  • The types of currency and information that were in it.

2. Notify your bank.

  • Provide a copy of the police report and case number.
  • Be prepared to close your accounts and move your funds to new ones.
  • Ask your bank to contact the major check verification companies. They need to notify stores not to accept any further checks from your account.
  • Cancel your ATM card. Get a new one and set it up with a new PIN.

3. Cancel all of your credit cards immediately.

Your credit card companies will send you a new credit card with a new credit card number. They may also ask you about recent transactions to determine if they are yours.

4. Notify the three major credit reporting agencies:
For each of these agencies, ask for the fraud or security department. Ask them to put a fraud alert on your credit report.

  • Equifax – 1-800-525-6285
  • TransUnion – 1-800-680-7289
  • Experian – 1-888-397-3742

5. A few weeks after the incident, get a free copy of your credit report.

Use this to determine if fraudulent transactions have been made in your name.

Do you have any other tips for making your wallet safer of more likely to be returned? Let us know.


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Guest's picture

So, I have pictures of my kids in my wallet, I lose it, a pedophile gets it, and now he has my address too? Well, I don't have kids, but if I did, I wouldn't carry their pictures with me in my wallet.

Paul Michael's picture

is probably the only thing I don't keep in my wallet. It isn't written on anything.

Guest's picture


If you're uncomfortable with baby pictures, you could always include an innocuous puppy picture in your wallet instead and boost your return chances up to almost 50%.

Guest's picture

Just this past weekend I lost my wallet, right outside of my house. After 2 hours of scouring my place the next morning, I had resorted to the fact it was gone and canceled my credit cards.

As I was walking out the door a few hours later, there was a police officer standing there. He looked at me for a moment and then said "you look familiar". And handed me my wallet! Apparently someone had turned it in, and he drove all the way to my house to see if he could find me. Talk about service!

Guest's picture

So you don't carry your driver's license in your wallet? That has the address on it.

Andrea Karim's picture

Wow, that's... that's some interesting reasoning there. I mean, I don't think there are any statistics on this, but my guess is that most pedophiles don't find their victims by finding strangers' wallets and checking for baby photos. But that's an interesting paranoia to have.

Guest's picture

If you don't have your address in your wallet, how do you expect it to be returned?

My husband lost his wallet on a Chicago bus (on the way to the airport, no less -- how's that for timing). It was mailed back to us, no cash, no return address. I doubt the mailer was the one who took the cash. S/he probably found it that way on the street, but left off the return address to avoid the hassle of dealing with us.

It was nice to get it back and know that the cards weren't floating around, but he had already canceled them all by the time the wallet returned. And any info for identity theft could have been copied. So getting it back wasn't as useful as you might think. The main benefit was not having to go to the DMV for a new license.

Guest's picture

This is interesting. I think it's a good reminder also to make photocopies of all credit cards, IDs, insurance cards, etc. that you have in your wallet or purse. This way, if your wallet or purse does get lost or stolen, you can retrieve this information easily instead of trying to remember everything you had in there.

Paul Michael's picture

My driver's license address is way out of date and I never updated it. I guess that could be an issue, but I had my reasons. Second, a simple phone number is all that is required, in my opinion. If lost, call "number." Most people will want you to do the running anyway, why should someone else have to cover the cost of postage or drive to your house anyway? It may also be worth considering a reward for its return.

Guest's picture

Very interesting post Paul. All it takes is for some personal photos and people feel guilty? Definitely enjoyed this article.