My Wallet/Purse Was Stolen! Now What?

Woman searching through handbag, elevated view
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It happens every day. Now it's happened to you. Your wallet was stolen, and you've lost your driver's license, credit cards, ATM card, Social Security card, library card, and all the pictures of your kids. You're worried about identity theft. What do you do?

Contact Your Bank Immediately

An ATM/debit card often has a VISA/MC logo so that it can be processed like a credit card, but the money comes out of your checking account. You can dispute fraudulent withdrawals with your bank, but you only get the money back if their investigation goes your way - and that can take 60 days or longer.

If you had a check or deposit slip in your wallet/purse, open a new account and move your money. Talk with the bank manager. Let them know what has happened. You'll find they can help a lot.

Contact Your Credit Card Companies Next

Credit card fraud is a common form of identity theft. The cards that were stolen will get used quickly, usually for a few large purchases, or several small ones. Most credit card companies are wise to this, and watch for "unusual buying patterns," but don't count on that. Let them know as soon as you hang up with your bank.

Make a Report with Your Local Police Department

Get the report number, and a hard copy of the report. Every company you work with to fix an identity theft issue will want a copy of this, so make several. Always keep the original.

(Local police don't make a big deal about identity theft because it's a single victim, and nobody was "hurt" by the crime. Don't let that bother you. The important thing is to get the report.)

Put out a fraud alert. Just call one of these credit-reporting agencies. When you place a fraud alert, the agency you contacted reports it to the others.

  • Experian - 1-888-397-3742 (TDD 1-800-972-0322)
  • Equifax - 1-888-766-0008 (TDD 1-800-255-0056 and request connection to Auto Disclosure Line at 1-800-685-1111)
  • Transunion - 1-800-680-7289 (TDD 1-877-553-7803)

Contact Your Insurance Agent

Most homeowner's policies have some sort of identity theft coverage. This would be a great time to find out what it covers. Don't be surprised if it's not much, though. The Federal Trade Commission published a brochure in 2008. It warned consumers to be careful what they buy. They said most identity theft products don't do anything you can't do yourself for free.

Contact the Federal Trade Commission (1-877-IDTHEFT) 

The FTC collects information about identity theft for studies and analysis. They may send you a copy of Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft.

File a Fraud Affidavit

The FTC suggests you fill this out. You can print a copy here. Like the police report, you will want several copies of the completed form. Always keep the original. (Note: The FTC doesn't require this, but some businesses will want it notarized.)

Get a New Driver's License

See if they'll give you a new number instead of a duplicate. They may not want to, but there's a big difference.

If someone commits a crime and has your driver's license, they'll give that to the cops when they're arrested. Let's say it was a DUI. They get released with a court date, and they never go back. Why would they? The cops aren't going to be looking for them—they gave the cops your ID! A bench warrant gets issued with your name on it, but you won't know about it until you're pulled over for a busted headlight or speeding.

When they give you a new license number, the old number usually becomes invalid. Even if it doesn't, though, now your name and address have two different license numbers. Police will have to look closer if they stop you.

Change Your Locks

The thief knows your address now. Did you have a key in your wallet or purse? If so, a home security system is a smart investment. Let your neighbors know what's happened, and ask them if they'll keep a lookout for strangers around your door.

Call Your Other Card Issuers 

Call the library if you had a library card. Call Blockbusters if you had a movie rental card. Call your car rental company, campus security, Victoria's Secret, everybody who gave you some sort of credit or ID card...even those shopper/savings cards. Identity thieves have run up all sorts of bills in their victim's names. They're creative, and it's impossible to know how your information will get misused.

Call the Social Security Administration

They won't do anything, but it's a good idea to have them make a note that your information was lost. Their number is 800-772-1213 (TDD 800-325-0778).

Call Your Lawyer

Identity theft almost always creates legal problems. Talk to your lawyer about what's happened, what you've done, and see if they have any other advice. Some states have laws and agencies to help identity theft victims; a lawyer can point you in the right direction. If you don't know a lawyer, try the state attorney general's office.

Consider a Credit Monitoring Service

Remember that most identity theft happens long after the information was lost/stolen—sometimes several years can pass before anything creeps up. Fraud alerts only last three months. Credit monitoring is a great way to keep tabs on things.