We all know that horrible sinking feeling in our stomachs, that one that hits when something has gone really, really wrong. Now imagine feeling it after opening your purse to pay for lunch and discovering your wallet is missing. Or feeling your back pocket and realizing that familiar rectangle is gone.
Having a wallet lost or stolen can happen to anyone. But the steps you take right after you learn it's missing — and precautions you remembered before it disappeared — can be the difference between a giant inconvenience, and a stolen identity.
According to The Federal Trade Commission, the national consumer protection agency, the first thing to do when a wallet disappears is to report it missing. Immediately.
Federal law protects consumers from paying for unauthorized purchases made with stolen credit or debit cards after the cards were reported missing. Be sure to follow up with an e-mail or letter to your card companies, including card numbers, the date your wallet went missing and when you first reported the cards gone. Monitor your statements for illegal purchases.
Another reason to call your banks immediately: Your liability for unauthorized swipes changes with how soon you report the cards missing, according to the FTC.
If you call your banks before anyone racks up charges, you aren't responsible for any of them, according to the FTC. If you wait, credit card companies can hold you liable for $50 of unauthorized purchases. Debit card companies can hold you responsible for $50 in charges if you report the card missing within two business days. Wait longer than that and you are responsible for up to $500 in charges with your debit card. Wait longer than 60 days after your statement is sent to you, and you are responsible for all the money taken from your account.
So, what not to leave in your wallet? According to Kiplinger's, definitely not your Social Security card. That's an identity thief's ticket to opening new accounts in your name Leave blank checks at home, as thieves can use your bank account and routing numbers to start stealing money. Don't keep your online account passwords in your wallet, or old receipts that someone could use to piece together your credit card numbers. Limit the number of credit cards you carry. And don't carry a spare house key in your wallet! That, coupled with the address on your driver's license, could lead the thief from your online bank account directly to your living room.