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You’ve lost your wallet—or it’s been stolen—and your first instinct is to panic. But resist this urge. Instead, take these 11 steps after your wallet has gone missing. If you do, it will help minimize the damage if someone has stolen your wallet, possibly with your driver’s license, credit cards and other important pieces of personal identification inside it.
Here’s what to do when you lose your wallet
1. Call the issuer of your debit card
Thieves can do a lot of damage with your debit card in just a short amount of time. Calling the bank or financial institution that issued your debit card, then, is the first step you should take after your wallet goes missing.
Tell the bank or financial institution that you think your debit card has been stolen. Your bank will immediately cancel your debit card and issue you a replacement with a new account number. Your bank will also go over recently listed purchases with your card to determine the last legal purchase you made before losing your debit card.
Taking this step quickly is key: If you report your debit card missing within two business days, you’ll only be responsible for a maximum of $50 worth of unauthorized purchases. Most banks won’t even charge you that.
If you wait more than two days and fewer than 60 to report your card missing, you could be responsible for up to $500 in illegal purchases. If you make your report after 60 days? Then you can be held responsible for every illegal purchase made with your card.
To make this call, log onto the web page of your bank or financial institution. You should find an 800 number there dedicated to reporting lost or stolen cards.
Here are some of these numbers for some of the bigger banks:
- Bank of America: 1-800-432-1000
- Chase: 1-800-935-9935
- Citibank: 1-800-950-5114
- Wells Fargo: 1-800-869-3557
- TD Bank: 1-888-751-9000
- US Bank: 1-800-285-8585
- PNC Bank: 1-888-762-2265
2. Call the bank that issued your checkbook
Thieves can quickly drain funds from your checking account when they steal your wallet—or if they steal your purse to get at your wallet—and find your checkbook inside.
You’ll have to take most of the same steps you did when canceling your lost or stolen debit card. Call your bank immediately and ask for a freeze on your checking account. This way, thieves won’t be able to make any more purchases using your checkbook.
Your bank’s customer service representative will also go over recent transactions with you to see which ones you made and which ones you didn’t.
To help solve the problem completely, you’ll have to close your account and open a new one. You will also need to change all your automated payments and direct deposits. Finally, you’ll need to confirm all the payments you made with paper checks have cleared.
3. Call your credit card companies
Call the companies that issued your credit cards, all of them, to cancel those cards. According to the Fair Credit Billing Act, you are not responsible for any fraudulent purchases on your credit card as long as you report your card stolen before a thief starts using it.
If a thief does use your credit card before you report it stolen, you’ll only be responsible for a maximum of $50 of unauthorized buys.
Need to call your credit card company? Here are the numbers of the four biggest of them:
- American Express: 1-800-992-3404
- Visa: 1-800-847-2911
- MasterCard: 1-800-627-8372
- Discover: 1-800-347-2683
4. Set up fraud alerts with the national credit bureaus
You don’t want thieves stealing your identity and using it to open new credit cards or loans in your name. One of the best ways to protect yourself from this scenario is to call one of the three national credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax or TransUnion—to request that they place a fraud alert on your credit report.
You only need to contact one of the bureaus. That bureau then must alert the other two so that they can place their own fraud alerts on your credit reports.
Your fraud alerts will remain in place for free for 90 days. Lenders and creditors are then required to take steps to verify your identity before opening new credit cards or loans in your name. This usually means that if they get a request for a new card or loan in your name, they’ll call you first, making sure that it was you who made the request.
Here are the numbers of the three credit bureaus:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
5. Consider identity theft protection
Even after you’ve canceled your checking account, credit cards and debit cards, you might still be vulnerable. Thieves can use other cards in your wallet, including your Social Security card, if you carry that, to steal your identity. Tip: Leave your Social Security card at home and secured in a safe place.
In addition to setting up fraud alerts, you might consider signing up for an identity theft protection program such as LifeLock's Standard membership. As a LifeLock member, you'll receive Lost Wallet Protection. Once you notice that your wallet is missing, you can call LifeLock at 1-800-416-0599 to report it stolen and the company will help you cancel or replace credit cards, your driver's license, Social Security card, insurance cards and other items you may have carried in your wallet.
LifeLock Standard costs $9.99 a month, or $109.89 a year (plus applicable sales tax).
6. File a police report
You might not think that your local police department will want to bother with your stolen wallet. You might also think that filing a report is a waste of time because the police will likely never find that missing wallet.
But filing a police report is actually a key step in protecting your identity.
If you’re a victim of identity theft—you know that someone used your identity to create a fake credit card account, for instance—you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and fill out an Identity Theft Affidavit. This affidavit allows you to fill out one form to report information to creditors and lenders regarding your case of identity theft.
To qualify for this form, though, and to file a complaint with the FTC, you’ll first need to file a police report as evidence, which is why filing a police report with your local law enforcement is so important. You might also need a police report to get a new driver’s license or Social Security card.
7. Replace your Social Security card
Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Thieves love this card because they love having your Social Security number. They’ll have a far easier time applying for loans or lines of credit in your name with this information.
If you did make the mistake of keeping your card in your wallet, you’ll need to order a credit freeze with the three national credit bureaus. This may help prevent a thief from opening new credit under your name unless you personally remove the freeze.
This is not a free process unless you can prove you’ve already been the victim of identity theft. If you can’t prove this, you’ll usually have to pay a fee, from $2 to $10. You may also have to pay when you remove the freeze.
In most cases, the Social Security Administration will not give you a new Social Security number. They’ll give you a new card, but not a new number. You might, though, be able to convince the administration to give you a new number if you can prove that someone has used your current number to steal your identity. That’s where filing that police report, and showing a copy of that report as evidence, comes in handy.
8. Check your credit reports for unusual activities
You’ll need to remain vigilant after losing your wallet to make sure that no one is using your identity to open new lines of credit or apply for loans. The best way to do this is to check your credit reports regularly.
Fortunately, you can order one copy of each of your three credit reports—one each maintained by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—at no charge once a year. If you stagger your requests—for instance, one every four months—you’re able to monitor your credit reports at no cost at different points over a 12-month period.
You can order your free reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Once you have your reports, look them over carefully. If you see credit card accounts or loans that you don’t remember opening, alert the credit bureau immediately. The accounts might be examples of fraudulent activity.
9. Get a new driver’s license
If your driver’s license was in your wallet, you’ll need to replace it. If you don’t, you could face a hefty fine if you’re driving and you’re stopped by a police officer.
You might have to visit your local DMV to do this. The requirements for a new license vary by state, so make sure to check the website of your local DMV to make sure you have the proof of identity you need. Most states will require you to show proof of your residency, usually in the form of a utility or cable bill or some other paperwork with your name on it; your birth certificate; and your Social Security number.
Many states limit how many replacement driver’s licenses you can order in a year, and others will charge a fee—often around $5—to replace a license. However, some states will waive this fee if you can prove that your license was stolen. This, again, is where a copy of a police report is useful.
10. Change the locks?
If you kept a key to your home in your wallet—or in the purse that was holding your wallet—it’s time to change your locks. A thief armed with your address, from your driver’s license, and a key to your house can easily break into your home. Avoid this risk by quickly changing the locks to your home so that key that was in your wallet won’t open your door.
11. Make a list of what else was in your wallet
If you’re like most people, you may carry plenty of cards in your wallet. Some may not matter, such as that punch card for a free coffee. But others, such as your health insurance cards, are far more important.
Make a list of the cards you carried in your wallet and start replacing those that you absolutely need. You’ll need to replace insurance cards, for instance, so that you can show it to your doctor during appointments.
If you kept your auto insurance card in your wallet—and you should stow this card in your car’s glove compartment, instead – you should replace it, too. Most states today accept proof of insurance that you can access through an app on your phone. But having a paper copy is a good form of back-up.
Other cards—such as gym memberships or library cards—you can replace when you have time.