Imagine getting home on Friday night, after a stressful week. You’ve been looking forward to this moment all day. All you want to do is just throw some sweatpants on and just relax on the couch. You turn on the TV, grab some drinks from the fridge and get your favorite pair of sweats. You take off your pants, go to empty your pockets, and you heart sinks…
Your wallet. It’s gone.
If this has ever happened to you, you know the sense of fear that accompanies this horrible event. Your entire life is contained in your wallet. There’s credit cards, debit cards, ID, money, insurance card and membership cards. You now could be the victim of identity theft, with repercussions for years.
Here’s a step-by-step guide of what to do should the worst happen.
Before your wallet is lost or stolen: lighten your wallet’s load and scan/photocopy everything inside.
This one tip alone can save you a ton of stress. If you’re like most people, you only use one debit or credit card most of the time. Too many people carry tons of cards “just in case”. Also, take your social security card out of your wallet, along with any passwords, addresses and so on. All of these are like pure gold to an identity thief.
Take everything that you have in your wallet and scan it into a computer. I mean everything – license, health insurance cards, even gift cards to your favorite restaurant. Update it as needed, and make sure that the document is password protected. This is incredibly important because you’ll know exactly what has gone missing and all the numbers to call.
You’ve just noticed your wallet is gone. Don’t panic and retrace your steps.
One of our readers told us a story about a date night with her husband. She went into their favorite restaurant, purse in tow, and went straight to the bar. After a few drinks, she reached into her purse to pay the tab. She realized her wallet was missing. Did she lose it? Did someone steal it?
If you find yourself in a similar situation, remain calm. Make sure you look in all the places it could be, and be reasonably certain that there’s no chance of it just popping up. If you’ve been to stores or restaurants, give them a call and report that you’ve lost your wallet. Yours truly (the author) actually lost his wallet in a clothing store one afternoon. I got home, realized it was gone and called the retailer. Thankfully, they had it and I rushed back in to retrieve it.
You can’t find your wallet. You’re sure that it’s gone for good. Here’s what to do:
STEP NUMBER ONE: CONTACT WHOEVER ISSUED YOUR CREDIT/DEBIT CARDS
Some people will tell you to cancel the cards immediately, but this isn’t a good idea, since it could adversely affect your credit score. What you should do is report your card as lost or stolen. Every card issuer has procedures in place that will suspend those numbers to keep your money safe. You’ll call their number and hear something like, “To report a lost or stolen card, press 2.” In fact, here are the numbers of the four major card companies:
American Express: 1-800-528-4800
Make sure that you get brand new cards, with new account numbers. Ask for the same credit limits and the same (or lower) interest rate, with any cashback/miles/rewards transferred to the new cards. Plus, under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you’ll face no liability for a thief’s shopping spree if you report the card as lost/stolen before the charges occur. If someone charges your account before your alert your card issuer, you’ll be on the hook for up to $50.
If you use any of those cards for automatic payments, inform the appropriate companies immediately. This is very popular with student loan repayments – you just link up your student loan to a debit card and put it on autopilot. But if your card is suspended, the payment will not go through and your debt will remain unpaid. This could affect your credit score.
Remember to act fast. You’ll be glad you did, because victims of debit card fraud only pay up to $50 as long as they report the card lost or stolen within the first two business days of realizing the card’s disappearance. It’s most likely that your bank won’t hold you liable for anything as long as you let them know immediately. If wait longer than two days, your liability limit shoots to $500, and if you wait longer than sixty days, you’ll lose any and all money stolen from your accounts. I don’t know why you’d ever wait sixty days, though…
Here are some bank numbers:
Wells Fargo: 1-800-869-3557
Bank of America: 1-800-432-1000
TD Bank: 1-888-751-9000
STEP NUMBER TWO: FILE A POLICE REPORT
If your wallet has been stolen, it’s a good idea to let the police know. It’s also a crucial step towards protecting your identity. Make sure you get a copy of the police report! If the theft results in identity theft, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, fill out an identity theft affidavit form and attach the police report. This goes a long way in protecting yourself, as it will become evidence in your favor in the case of fraud or identity theft. What you DON’T want to do is get asked, “Well, why didn’t you report the loss?” Not a good look!
STEP NUMBER THREE: SET UP FRAUD ALERTS
This is an important step, because without it, thieves could still open new lines of credit in your name. You need to set up a fraud alert with one of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Once you set up an alert with one, the law requires that agency to report your loss to the others and an alert will be set on all three of your credit reports for free (for an initial 90 days).
A fraud alert lets lenders and creditors know that they must verify a person’s identity before extending any new credit. How do they verify your identity? They’ll usually call you, via the number you put on file with the fraud alert. This makes it impossible for a thief to get more credit and run up huge bills in your good name. Here are the numbers you need:
BONUS STEP: Pull your credit report and look for anything fishy. Some identity thieves won’t do anything with your information while it’s “hot”. That’s why you need to make sure to monitor your credit regularly.
STEP FOUR: GO TO THE DMV TO REPORT YOUR MISSING/STOLEN LICENSE
Everyone keeps their driver’s license in their wallet. It’s also one of the most important tools for an identity thief. Get someone to drive you to the DMV and report your loss. They’ll process an application and reissue you a new license, which will cost a few dollars in fees. The DMV will probably ask you to file a police report as well.
STEP FIVE: IF YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY CARD IS GONE…
If an identity thief gets your social security number, he’s hit the jackpot. You should know your social security number by heart and have NO REASON to carry it with you. However, if you just so happened to have it in there, you need to report it IMMEDIATELY. This is absolutely critical, because you won’t ever get a new number, like with credit cards.
Make sure you call the IRS Identity Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490. Then, file the loss with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT.
Because a thief could easily open accounts in your name with your SSN, I strongly advise you to consider a credit freeze. This makes sure nobody can apply for credit under your name and social security number. These are not free (around $10 or so per credit reporting agency) but it is a vital safeguard.
BONUS: DID YOUR WALLET CONTAIN KEYS? IF SO, CHANGE YOUR LOCKS.
You’d be amazed at how many people neglect this step. It’s not that hard for someone to rob your house this way. All they have to do is make a copy of the key and jot down the address from your license. Someone could even return your wallet to the police, but he or she would still have your key.
Lost and stolen wallets can cause massive damage to a person’s life if the information falls into the wrong hands. With this information, you’ll be prepared, and you can turn what could be a devastating disaster into a minor headache.