As soon as you realize your wallet or purse is gone—whether it's lost or stolen—you can immediately take some steps to greatly reduce the chance of identity theft and unauthorized charges to your accounts. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, follow these steps to protect yourself and your accounts.
Contact Your Bank
Report any missing ATM or debit cards to your bank first, since they are tied to money in your checking or savings accounts.Usually, the bank will ask you to review your recent account transactions to verify that you made them. Next, the bank will put an alert on your account to try to catch any future instances of fraud. The bank will also place a hold on your cards so that they can no longer be used.
Liability for fraudulent charges is greater for stolen debit cards than for credit cards, and varies depending on how quickly the bank is notified.
You shouldn't have to physically go into a bank branch to complete this step. Depending on which bank you use, you may be able to report a lost or stolen card by signing into your online or mobile banking account. If that option isn't available, then you can call your bank. Most banks have a phone number dedicated specifically to fraud and reporting lost or stolen cards. However, if going into your local branch makes you more comfortable, you have that option.
After you report and cancel your cards, you'll usually receive new ones in the mail. In some cases, you can get an immediate replacement by visiting a bank branch in person.
Contact Your Credit Card Companies
Credit card fraud is a common form of identity theft, and stolen credit cards are often used quickly. Most credit card companies are wise to this, so they watch for unusual purchases and will alert you if necessary. Furthermore, the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) protects you from being held liable for fraudulent activity.
However, it's better to take the steps to prevent unauthorized charges instead of disputing them after they've already been made. That's why you should let the companies know that your cards were stolen as soon as you hang up with your primary bank. If you don't report that your credit card was lost or stolen and it's fraudulently used, you could be held liable for up to $50 in charges. However, the FCBA protects you from having to pay any more than that.
As your primary bank will likely do, your credit card companies will review your recent transactions with you, put a hold on your cards so that they can't be used, and issue new cards.
File a Police Report
Local police usually can't do much to retrieve your possessions. Also, they may not prioritize your report unless there was more than one victim or the thief robbed you (as opposed to stealthily taking your wallet). However, you should still file a police report so that you have a record of the incident. Doing so will give you a paper trail that can make the recovery process go more smoothly.
To file a report, contact the police precinct closest to the place where you believe your wallet or purse was lost or stolen. If you're not sure where that was, reach out to the precinct closest to your home. You may also have the option to file the report online.
After you file the report, write down the report number and obtain a copy of the report. Companies you work with to fix an identity theft issue will want to see this report, so make several copies, and be sure to keep the original.
Request a Fraud Alert
Contact one of the major three credit-reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, or Transunion — and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This alert lets companies know to take extra verification steps when issuing new credit or modifying existing accounts in your name.
You only need to request an alert with one of these credit bureaus, and that one will report it to the others:
- Experian: Call 1-888-397-3742 or request a fraud alert on the Experian website.
- Equifax: Call 1-888-766-0008 or request a fraud alert on the Equifax website.
- Transunion: 1-800-680-7289 or request a fraud alert on the Transunion website.
Initial fraud alerts last for one year, but you can request an extended fraud alert of seven years. You'll need a police report or identity theft report (or both) to get the extension approved.
You may also want to consider a credit freeze. These freezes automatically block any attempt to check your credit, effectively stopping fraudsters from acquiring a loan or opening a credit card with your name.
File a Report With the FTC
Visit IdentityTheft.gov, a resource managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help you resolve problems created by identity theft. You can complete a form online or call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338) to report possible identity theft and get a personalized recovery plan. The FTC also collects information about identity theft for studies and analysis.
Get a New Driver's License
In most states, you can't replace a driver's license online. You'll probably need to go to a DMV office to do that, and you'll have to present at least one form of identification, such as a birth certificate or Social Security card. If you can't find the appropriate ID needed, or if your alternate forms of identification were also stolen, you might need to show a copy of your police report, FTC report, or some other proof of theft.
Call Other Card Issuers
Try to think about any non-financial cards you may have had in your wallet or purse, such as a library card, rewards card, or membership card. Identity thieves can run up all sorts of bills, so even if you think the card is harmless, it's best to reach out to whoever issued the card to you. Scammers can get creative, and it's impossible to know how your information will get misused.
Change Your Locks
If you had your keys in your wallet or purse, changing your locks is a good idea. A thief probably knows your address from your driver's license or other items in your wallet. If appropriate, let your neighbors know what happened, and ask them to keep a lookout for strangers around your door.
If you're concerned about home invasion or burglary, you may consider investing in a home security system.
Call Your Lawyer
Identity theft almost always creates legal problems. Talk to your lawyer about what happened and the steps you've taken to protect yourself. Ask if they have any other advice beyond the steps you've already taken. Some states have special laws and agencies to help identity theft victims, and a lawyer can point you in the right direction. If you don't know a lawyer, then try the state attorney general's office.
Consider a Credit Monitoring Service
Identity theft can happen long after the information was lost or stolen. Sometimes, several years can pass before anything creeps up. Credit monitoring services or fraud protection services can help catch fraud or identity theft as soon as it happens and prevent it from happening in the future. You can often sign up through such a program through your bank or credit card company, and many third-party services are available as well. The level of detection and protection varies, as does the cost. Some credit monitoring services are free.
The Bottom Line
Losing your wallet or your purse is annoying at best and detrimental at worst. However, by following these steps, your life, finances, and accounts should eventually return to normal. Remain calm, act quickly, and know your rights. As long as you stay diligent and put in the necessary effort, you'll move past this unfortunate chapter in your life.