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

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 identity theft and unauthorized charges to your accounts, such as notifying your bank and credit card companies.

Contact Your Bank

Report to your bank any missing ATM and debit cards 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 and a hold on your cards so that they can no longer be used.

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. You also have the option of going to a branch in person.

After you report and cancel your cards, you'll usually receive new ones in the mail promptly. In some cases, you can get a temporary or permanent replacement card right away if you show up in person to a branch of 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've already been made and the money is no longer in your account.

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, watch for unusual purchases, and alert you if necessary. However, still let the companies 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, 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 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 you new cards.

File a Police Report

Local police often can't do much 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, you should still file a police report so that you have a record of the incident. It will make dealing with the situation go more smoothly if you have proof of what happened.

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. Depending on where you are, you may have the option to file the report online.

After you file the report, 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 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:

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, identity theft report, or both 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, 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, 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. 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 as well as 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 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 available varies, as does the cost.

Some organizations, like Credit Karma, offer credit monitoring services for free.