11 Steps to Take When You Lose Your Wallet

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Losing your wallet is awful; there’s no way around it. Wallets contain so much personal and financial information, which makes losing them very stressful.

However, if you think you lost your wallet, it’s vital to act quickly.

What You Need to do When Your Wallet is Lost

If you have the unfortunate luck to lose your wallet, here are the steps you need to take to protect yourself.

1. Determine if it’s Actually Lost or Just Misplaced

The first step you need to take if you lose your wallet is to figure out if you really lost it. I can’t tell you the number of times I thought I’d lost my wallet only to find it a day or so later in a different purse or the bottom of my closet.

Here are ideas of where to start looking:

  • Ask your housemate(s) if they have seen your wallet
  • Check your car and all bags (purse, backpack, etc.)
  • Pockets of any clothes you have worn recently
  • Retrace your steps
  • Call stores, restaurants and other retail establishments you have visited

Once you start going through the steps that are listed below, you will probably end up with all new account numbers. And this can be particularly painful if you find your wallet a few days later. So make sure you check every possible option for your wallet before giving up and declaring it lost.

2. Make a List of Everything that Was in Your Wallet

Once you’re sure you have lost your wallet and not just misplaced it, it’s time to get down to business. First, make a list of every item that was in your wallet (from what you can remember).

This includes but is not limited to all credit and debit cards, health insurance cards, dental and eye insurance cards, gift cards, checkbook and so on. Use your list to make a plan of whom to contact (in order of importance) to report the loss.

Log into all of your bank accounts to check for any unusual or suspicious activity. This way, you can flag those transactions to the financial institution when you call to make the report.

When you act quickly, you limit your liability if someone does use your accounts. But if you delay, your risk of being held responsible (and the likelihood of adverse effects) increases with each passing day.

3. Call Your Credit Card Issuers

The next step is to call your credit card issuers and report your card as lost or stolen. This is different from canceling your accounts, which is what some people try to do when they lose their wallets.

Every financial institution has a different process when you report a lost or stolen credit card. Instead of canceling your account, they can suspend your card to keep your account safe until the issue is resolved.

To find the phone number for your credit card issuer, log into your online account.

Here are the phone numbers for the four major credit card issuers:

  • Visa 1-800-847-2911 or 1-800-VISA-911
  • Mastercard 1-800-627-8372
  • American Express (AmEx) 1-800-992-3404
  • Discover 1-800-347-2683

Or if a bank or a credit union issued the card, make sure to call them. You can ask the financial institution to issue your new credit cards with different account numbers. This should not affect your credit limit, rewards, APR and so on.

Make sure to flag any suspicious activity on your account when you call the card issuer. This way, you won’t be held liable for purchases made by third parties using your card.

For credit card charges, you may be liable for unauthorized charges up to $50 according to federal law. But if you report your card lost or stolen before any charges are made, you may not be responsible for them.

The longer you wait to report your loss, the higher your liability. If you wait beyond two days after your loss, you may be liable for up to $500 in charges you did not authorize on your credit accounts.

To make sure no one is using your account fraudulently, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. There are many free options to monitor your credit which will help ensure that your cards are not being used without your permission.  

If you have auto pay set up for your credit cards, alert those companies as well. That way, you won’t get a late fee if your payment doesn’t go through. Once you have your new credit cards, you can update the account information.

4. Call Your Bank to Report Your Debit Card

In addition to reporting your credit cards stolen, you also may need to call your bank. If you had checks inside your wallet, you need to alert your financial institution. Every bank has different rules for what to do if you lose your checks.

And if you lost your debit card, make sure you report that as well. You will probably be issued a debit card with entirely new numbers. Your bank may also change your checking account number to prevent fraud.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, once you report the loss of your debit card, you cannot be held responsible for charges after that time.

Make sure you manually pay any bills you have set to auto draft from your checking account or debit card. Update your online auto-pay information once you receive your new cards and account numbers.

5. File a Police Report

Even if you think you lost your wallet rather than had it stolen, you should file a police report. Why? Because it will serve as a record of your loss. This is important if you become the victim of identity theft or fraud.

When you make the report, make sure you provide whatever details you have. Be sure to include:

  • When and where you last saw your wallet
  • Your thoughts on what may have happened to it
  • Any suspicions if you think someone stole it
  • The contents of your wallet
  • A description of the wallet itself

Keep a copy of the police report for your records.

6. Put a Fraud Alert on Your Accounts

Since losing your wallet puts you at risk for fraud, it’s crucial to alert the major credit-reporting agencies. This includes Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Putting an alert on your account means a creditor will have to verify your identity before approving new credit.

The fraud alert will make it more difficult if not impossible for thieves to charge large purchases to your accounts. Here is the contact information for the three agencies:

Setting up a fraud alert should be free. It will stay in place for 90 days after which time you can decide if you want to renew it.

7. Report Your Driver’s License as Missing to the DMV

If you lost your wallet, you likely had your driver’s license in it. Besides the inconvenience of not having a license, it’s important to report it as stolen as soon as possible. Your license serves as a main point of identification, making it easier for thieves to commit identity theft.

It’s better to go to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office and talk to them in person. This should also expedite the process of getting a new license in hand. Bring along a copy of your police report since the DMV staff may ask for it.

8. Report Your Social Security Card as Missing and Consider Freezing Your Credit

You know you are not supposed to carry your Social Security Card in your wallet, but it was in there, nonetheless. If this is the case, you need to report the loss immediately. Thieves can use your SSN to open new credit accounts, access your current accounts and so on.

When you lose your SSN card, you increase your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft and fraud. However, calling the Social Security Administration won’t be too helpful. Unlike with your credit or debit cards, they won’t issue you a new SSN.

Your entire life, including your credit, your property, retirement accounts, etc. is connected to your SSN. To reduce your risk of having your identity stolen, you need to call the Internal Revenue Service’s Identity Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490.

Also, you should report the loss to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT. You may also need to go to a local Social Security office to pick up your new SSN card.

Consider putting a credit freeze on your accounts. However, unless you can prove that you’re the victim of identity theft, you will most likely have to pay for the credit freeze. You may also have to pay to get the freeze removed from your accounts.

This step may seem dramatic, but it will prevent anyone (even you) from applying for credit using your name and social. Keep the freeze in place for a few months just until you’re sure you no longer need to worry about it.

9. Review Your Credit Reports

You’re entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus per federal law. Take advantage of this perk to request a copy in the wake of losing your wallet. To get your free reports, go to www.annualcreditreport.com.

It may be best to stagger the requests by a few weeks or even months to ensure you don’t miss any big red flags. If you order one report every four months, you can monitor your credit regularly the entire year.

Go through each credit report thoroughly and review it for suspicious activity. Besides, it’s a good practice to review your reports annually to make sure everything is up to par.

If you see any issues or have concerns, alert the credit bureau at once. This includes any accounts or credit you don’t remember opening. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to unusual activity.

10. Call Your Health Insurance Company

If your health insurance cards were in your wallet, you will need to get new ones. A thief can use your cards along with your driver’s license or SSN to receive benefits in your name. It’s important to alert your health insurance companies as soon as you find your wallet missing.

You can call the main number for each health insurance provider or contact the Human Resources department. HR should be able to provide you with the best number to call.

Also, call your dental and eye insurance policyholders. You may need to get a different policy number for each account, which could disrupt any doctor’s appointments you may have coming up.

If you end up getting new policy numbers, make sure you update your doctor’s office, so that they can bill your insurance. Otherwise, you may receive bills for recent medical care and would have to call the billing department to resolve them.

Keep your receipts when going to the doctor for the next few months just in case. Review your claims closely to ensure your health insurance company processed the charge correctly using your new policy number. This way, you’re not on the hook for any gaps in coverage due to getting a new number.

11. Get a New Wallet

Now that you’ve gone through all the steps to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud, it’s time to get a new wallet. Perhaps you already have another one. Or maybe you’d like a brand new wallet. Now is the time to get that snazzy one you’ve had your eye on!

Once you have a new wallet, make sure you take steps to protect yourself in case you lose your wallet again. Here’s what you should do with your new wallet:

  • Go minimal – Most people use only one or two credit or debit cards for the majority of purchases. Keep only the card(s) you use every day in your wallet and leave the rest in a safe place at home. Review the contents of your wallet and take out anything that could result in your identity being stolen. This includes personal info such as your address, phone number, passwords, SSN card and so on. Keep your checkbook at home as well, and only bring it along when you need to write a check.
  • Copy the contents – Make a copy or take a photo of every item in your wallet. Include your credit and debit cards, driver’s license, health insurance cards and so on. Copy both the front and back, which usually has the contact info. Then create a PDF with the information and keep it in a safe place using password protection. If you lose your wallet again, you can use the information to make calls and alert the appropriate parties.
  • Consider a “Lost Wallet” tracker – There are trackers such as the one from Tile that help you locate a lost wallet. Consider using one to help you find your wallet next time it goes missing – even if it’s just under your couch.

The Bottom Line

Losing your wallet can be stressful. It’s incredible how this small piece of cloth or leather contains so much of your life. Make sure you search everywhere before deciding your wallet is indeed gone forever.

The last thing you want is to go through the process of calling your banks and credit card issuers only to find your wallet a week later. Plus, changing your account numbers and getting new cards is a cumbersome process. And once you do it, you can’t go back.

One of the biggest issues to watch out for when you lose your wallet is identity theft or fraud. So keep a close eye on all of your accounts and monitor your credit reports in the months after your loss. Investigate any suspicious activity and alert the appropriate institution.

Have you ever lost your wallet? What steps did you take to protect yourself? Share on our social media channels.

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