At one time or another, you've likely felt the icy chill of panic associated with a lost wallet. Oh no, there goes my week – and my credit!
At that moment, it occurs to you how vulnerable we are to identity theft and fraud when we carry around documents that contain our most private information.
You pat-down yourself, your car, your kids, and your dog's favorite bed one last time before giving up. But it's just gone. Now you've got to act fast to keep things from getting worse.
Here's what you need to do if you've lost your wallet:
1. Report your credit cards as lost.
Limit your liability for purchases made on your lost cards by canceling them as soon as possible. You'll find your card issuer's customer support number on your bank statements.
Once you've ordered and received your new cards, be sure to update your account information with services that automatically deduct fees and payments.
2. Report your checkbook and checking debit card as lost.
Call your bank and ask them to freeze your account immediately.
If you only use the register that comes with your checks, you'll have to rely on receipts to figure out which outstanding checks will become voided, requiring you to reach out to the payees to correct the situation.
Consider closing out the compromised account and starting fresh with another, and as with your credit cards, updating automatic withdrawal accounts with your new routing and debit card numbers.
3. File a police report.
Even if you're pretty sure the waitstaff at your favorite restaurant will find your wallet and keep it safe until the morning, it's wise to file a police report as soon as possible.
You may recover all your documents, cards, and even cash, but that doesn't mean someone hasn't skimmed your bank cards or copied your personal information.
Reporting your lost wallet to the authorities creates an official record, something that will come in handy if problems arise in the future.
4. Replace your driver's license.
Once you've placed holds and alerts on all your financial accounts, get a ride to your nearest DMV and replace your driver's license.
“Oh, I lost my wallet, Officer” might not get you off with a warning if stopped by the police, even if you're telling the truth. If you get a citation, you'll suffer the inconvenience of traffic court where you'll have to produce your replacement license. You might as well get a Lyft.
You might want to rent a post office box on your way there. If your state laws allow you to use a P.O. Box address on your driver's license and auto registration, you're building an additional layer of security between you and those who might use your personal information to do you harm.
5. Set up fraud alerts with credit reporting companies.
Setting up an alert is much easier than it sounds. When you request a fraud alert with one of the three major credit reporting agencies, they inform the other two. And the alert—which requires more complex authentication protocols for someone to take out a loan in your name—is free.
You'll need to renew the alert each year, and you can do so regardless of a lost wallet or data breach exposure.
Step up your identity security by freezing your credit. A freeze on your credit prevents anyone from running a credit check or securing a loan in your name without you providing clear and undisputed access.
6. Report lost insurance cards.
You'll need new auto and health insurance cards, but you'll also want to review your policies to know where you stand if someone files a fraudulent claim on your accounts.
Make sure your carriers realize you lost your policy information and ask if there are security measures in place to protect your finances and your medical records.
7. Request a new Social Security card if lost.
If you lost your card with the rest of your wallet, find out if you qualify to order a replacement online before you make the trek to your nearest Social Security Administration office.
The SSA is very generous with free card replacements: up to three in a single year, or ten in a lifetime. Even these limits are flexible.
Replacements typically require a valid driver's license or government-issued I.D., and they'll often need a passport or certified copy of your birth certificate to prove citizenship. Since it's likely you lost your driver's license, the SSA accepts several alternative documents.
Once approved, they'll mail you a new card, and you're better off keeping it in a safe or safety deposit box with the rest of your essential documents. It's unlikely you'll ever need it unless you're applying for a loan or appeasing the H.R. department at a new job.
8. Monitor your credit score.
Hopefully, you're doing this anyway. If you aren't, this is the time to get on the ball – track your credit score for free.
You're entitled to a free credit report from each of the reporting agencies per year. Under normal circumstances, you'd space these out, but if you lost your wallet, you'll want to check up on your credit score at least every other month.
Please don't take your report at face value, as they often include mistakes. Cross-reference reports from different companies and your records, and follow up if you need to correct or contest any errors or fraudulent activity.
You might find there's an upshot to all this inconvenience: Better credit monitoring habits can motivate you to raise your credit score!
9. Consider signing up for identity theft protection services.
If you lost your personal and financial documents, or you've experienced a data breach, you might want a little help protecting your identity and credit score.
First, find out if your bank, mortgage lender, or insurance company offers identity theft protection services at a rate that's typically lower than those provided by the major ID theft protection companies. Then find out if what they're offering is worth the expense.
In most cases, you're paying for convenience, and you'll save money and possibly do a better job if you monitor your credit reports and freeze your credit entirely.
But be prepared to remain vigilant for the next year or so, as it could take months before fraudulent activity appears in your bills or credit history.
10. Change the locks on your home.
If your wallet fell into the wrong hands, you're exposing yourself to more trouble than bad credit and fraudulent bank charges. The more personal information is “out there,” the easier it is for criminals to determine whether or not you and your home are viable targets.
Re-key your locks if you also lost your purse with keys in it, alter your routine, and ask your trusted neighbors to report any suspicious activity.
Dealing With a Lost Wallet
When you realize your wallet is missing, you have to take action instead of just hoping you’ll locate it soon.
While it makes sense to retrace your steps and call places you’ve been to see if your wallet has been found, start making phone calls if you don’t have any luck.
It will take some time and energy to take care of the list above, but dealing with identity theft and fraud can take a lot longer – years even.
If you happen to find your wallet, you’ll have duplicate copies of some information. Make sure you keep your important documents in a safe place and continue to monitor your credit.
Article written by:
Guest contributor, Cara Palmer, the founder of Cara Palmer Blog, a personal finance website that shares smart money tips to help readers get out of debt and accumulate wealth. You can also find Cara on Facebook and Pinterest.