What to Do if Your Wallet Is Stolen or Lost

Taking action right away can help prevent identity theft

Woman searching through handbag, elevated view
••• James Darell/Photodisc/Getty Images

It's a common scenario: You go to grab your wallet or purse and realize it's gone. It's lost, or even worse—it has been stolen. Before spiraling in to complete despair, take a few deep breaths. Then, take action. If you take the right steps as soon as you notice your wallet is missing—such as notifying your bank and credit card companies—then you can greatly reduce the chance identity theft and unauthorized charges to your accounts.

Contact Your Bank Immediately

Report to your bank any missing ATM and debit cards first, since they are tied to money in your checking or savings accounts. Usually, a representative will review your recent account transactions to verify that you made them. Then, the bank will put an alert on your account and a hold on your cards so that they can no longer be used.

You'll receive new cards in the mail promptly, and in some cases, you can get a temporary replacement card if you show up in person to the bank.

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) protects you from being held liable for fraudulent activity, but it's better to take the steps to prevent unauthorized charges instead of disputing them after they're already made and the money is no longer in your account.

Contact Your Credit Card Companies Next

Credit card fraud is a common form of identity theft, and it's likely that your stolen credit cards will get used quickly. Most credit card companies are wise to this, watch for unusual purchases, and alert you if necessary. However, it's a good idea to let them know that your cards were stolen as soon as you hang up with your bank. If you don't report that your credit card was lost or stolen and it's fraudulently used, then you could be held liable for up to $50 in charges. However, the FCBA protects you from having to pay any more than that.

Like your bank, your credit card companies will review your recent transactions with you, put a hold on your cards so they can't be used, and issue you new cards.

File a Police Report

Often, there's not much that local police can do to retrieve your possessions. Also, they may not prioritize your report unless there was more than one victim, or violence was associated with it. However, it is still important that you file a police report so you have a record of the incident. It will make dealing with the situation go more smoothly if you have proof of what happened.

Contact the police precinct closest to the place where you believe your wallet or purse was lost or stolen to file a report. If you're not sure where that was, then reach out to the precinct closest to your home. Depending on where you are, you may have the option to file the report online.

After you file it, get the report number and 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 will let 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:

The alert will stay on your report for 90 days, but you can request an extended fraud alert of seven years. You'll need a police report and/or an identity theft report to get the extension approved.

File a Report With the FTC

Visit IdentityTheft.gov, a resource managed by The Federal Trade Commission 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. Usually, you'll 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 it was also stolen, then you'll usually need to show a copy of your police report, FTC report, or other proof of theft.

Call Other Card Issuers 

Contact the library if you had a library card in your wallet, as well as any other companies or organizations that have issued you membership cards, savings or rewards cards, or IDs that were lost or stolen. Identity thieves have run up all sorts of bills and gotten away with many scams in their victim's names. They're creative, and it's impossible to know how your information will get misused. At the very least, you can get replacement cards.

Change Your Locks

If you had your keys in your wallet or purse, then it's a good idea to change your locks. A thief can easily get your address from your license or other items in your wallet. If appropriate, let your neighbors know what happened, and ask them if they'll keep a lookout for strangers around your door. It's also not a bad idea to invest in a home security system if you don't already have one.

Call Your Lawyer

Identity theft almost always creates legal problems. Talk to your lawyer about what happened, the steps you've taken to protect yourself so far and find out if they have any other advice. Some states have 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 be a great way to make sure you 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 now available as well. The level of detection and protection you can get varies, as does the cost.

However, you can get some credit monitoring services for free through organizations like Credit Karma.