emergency preparedness

What to Do if You Lose Your Wallet

Nadia TamaraA Little Bit of Everything, Emergency Fund, Emergency Preparedness Leave a Comment

emergency preparedness

I called a friend at 6 am last week because I needed him to rescue me from the mini personal crisis I was in the midst of. My friend rushed out of his house within five minutes and grabbed only the essentials: his phone, his wallet, and his car keys. He met up with me, helped me out and we parted ways. All was good and dandy until I got a call from him a few hours later. He was in crisis-mode because he couldn’t find his wallet anywhere.

Sometime between 6 am and the middle of the day, his wallet had gone missing. He looked everywhere, but his efforts were to no avail. Then he started doubting himself and had a hard time retracing his last steps. Did he leave the house without his wallet that the morning? He went to the store the previous day- could he have left it there?

In that moment of stress, it really dawned on me how valuable the contents of our wallets are. In the case that it gets lost or stolen, we risk too much personal information getting into the wrong hands- of course our hope is that a good samaritan will return it intact, but that's not always the case.

Replacing credit cards, government ID’s, social security cards, etc. is a huge hassle, but being prepared ahead of time makes the recovery process of those items much easier. My friend’s unexpected crisis prompted me to address his situation in a post.

First things first, let’s talk about some of the ways you can protect your wallet so that you don’t become a victim of identity theft.

Things you should never keep in your wallet

  • Your birth certificate. Your birth certificate is one of the most (if not the most) important document you will ever own. It should be kept it in a safe deposit box for safekeeping. Replacing a lost or stolen birth certificate will be a major hassle.

  • Your social security card is the golden ticket for an identity thief. You should memorize your SSN and keep the card in a security box 99% of the time with the exception of the times you need to present it for work purposes or when opening a new bank account.

  • Cards you don’t use. Do not carry extra credit cards that you don’t need in your wallet. For example, I make almost all of my work purchases on the internet. I don’t carry my business credit card in my wallet because it does me no good if it’s in there. If my wallet gets stolen, that’s one card I won’t have to stress about.

  • Personal account information and pin numbers. Before the time of mobile deposits, I had a horrible habit of forgetting my account information at home every time that I would go to deposit checks at the bank. Luckily the tellers knew me but they would reprimand me as soon as I approached the window. To avoid their remarks, I started carrying my bank account information in my wallet. I no longer do this but in my ignorance as a teen, I was making a huge mistake- luckily I didn’t have to learn from it the hard way!

  • Passwords, addresses, and access numbers. It’s not uncommon to write a new password or an access number on a piece of paper and store it in a pocket of your wallet for quick access. While it seems convenient in the moment, it’s like giving a thief a fast-pass to some of your accounts. Giving them access to someone’s address is just as risky.

  • Your auto insurance card. I don’t think it’s necessary to keep this card in your wallet. Instead, I recommend keeping it in the glove compartment of your vehicle.

How to Protect the Contents of Your Wallet

  • When in public, always stay on alert. Thieves can be lurking anywhere, even in the places where “crime never happens”. Unfortunately, thieves are oftentimes one step ahead of us because they’re waiting for the perfect opportunity to take action. Being on your cellphone while in public puts you at a major disadvantage. Get this- my friend’s phone was stolen while she was in the driver’s seat of her car waiting for the traffic light to change. With her window rolled halfway down, the thief approached her and snatched the phone right out of her hands and took off before she even had a second to process what had happened.

  • Program your bank’s toll-free phone number into your phone. Adding the phone number takes one minute and virtually no memory on your cell. It can save you a huge headache (and money!) if you don't waste time scrambling to find the phone number in your card statements. Thieves waste no time and are probably on a shopping spree while you're on the phone with the bank. Find the toll free number on the bottom section in the back of your cards. Save the US and International numbers, in case your card gets stolen while you’re overseas.

  • Make photocopies (front and back) of the documents and cards in your wallet…all of them! This will make it much easier for you to remember and recover anything that has been lost. As a back-up, scan these documents into a computer and put them in a password-protected file. Update these copies whenever is necessary. Do not upload copies of your Social Security Number to your smartphone or the cloud.

  • Carry a dummy wallet with ten to twenty dollars in it. This is especially recommended if you’re traveling overseas because you’re a more likely target, but it applies to everyone no matter where you are. If you’re approached by a petty thief for money and they ask you for your wallet, rather than putting your life at risk by refusing to comply, hand them the dummy wallet. While they might get a few bucks out of you, they won’t take your identity nor your life.

  • Consider signing up with an identity theft protection program. These programs help people file all the necessary paperwork and claims to cancel credit cards, renew ID's, and prevent identity theft.

  • Invest in a Bluetooth wallet tracker, like Tile, or download a “lost wallet” app.

  • Tape your name and phone number to your wallet. I'd like to think that the number of good samaritans out there outweigh the number of thieves. I have found lost wallets before and a few times there was a phone number in it. This helped me get a hold of the owner quickly.

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How to find your lost wallet

Before panicking and calling your credit card, you want to make sure that you didn’t misplace it. It’s a hassle to cancel and recover any lost documents, but it's unneeded stress if you come to find them a little while later.

  • Take a deep breath and spend a moment retracing your steps. Try to remember the last place you used your wallet and work forward from there. Call the stores and restaurants you visited up until the point that you lost it. Contact the Lyft or Uber driver you were last with, etc.

  • If you have a Bluetooth tracker or app, track your wallet.

  • Meanwhile, monitor your bank account to make sure there are no recent suspicious or fraudulent charges on your bank statements. If there are, continue reading!

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What to do if your wallet has been stolen

If your wallet has been stolen, your priority is to act promptly in blocking access to all of your accounts because your identity may now be in the hands of a mastermind thief. 

  • Call your bank, credit and debit card companies and cancel your cards immediately.

    The faster you report a lost or stolen card, the less liable you are for unauthorized charges. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), you may be responsible for up to $50 if the loss is reported within the first two days. If you wait any longer than that, you could be liable for $500 or more.

    While you’re on the phone with the bank or card company, a representative will review the most recent charges with you to detect and report any fraudulent charges. A replacement card with a new number should be sent to you within a week or so.

  • File a report at the local police department. This is an essential step which will help to maintain your credibility in the future. If you can, file the report in the same district that the wallet was stolen in. If that’s not possible, file the report nearest to where you live. Make sure to keep a copy of the report. Credit card companies and banks may request a copy of the police report in order to process and return the money that was stolen from you. In some states, the DMV will waive the ID renewal fee if you show them proof of the incident. Make copies of the police report and keep the original.

  • If by any chance you had your social security card in your wallet (…again, HUGE mistake!) then you need to file a theft report with the police right away and call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213. If you suspect that your identity was stolen,  call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. You might also need to fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039.

  • Set up a one-year fraud alert or security freeze. Setting up an extended credit alert will allow creditors to get to your report but it requires them to go through more steps to verify your identity. Placing a security credit freeze will stop all access to your credit report (this is recommended if you believe you’re a victim of identity theft). In either case, you will be protecting your credit and preventing someone from opening a new account in your name. Contact any one of the three national credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian. When they have processed your claim, they will notify the other two bureaus.

  • Report identity theft by filing an affidavit with the FTC. They will send you a personalized recovery plan. 

  • Take inventory of all the cards and documents you had in your wallet. If you already have copies of them, this process will go much faster.

    • State-issued ID: For a driver’s license or other state ID, you will need to go into the DMV to request a replacement card. You will need to bring with you two forms of identification, such as your social security card, passport, or birth certificate, as well as a copy of the police and/or FTC report. If you find out your license number was used, request a new number.

    • Passport: If your passport or passport ID gets stolen, call the State Department (1-877-487-2778) to report it missing and request a new one. If you’re overseas, contact the nearest embassy or consulate. You can also report a lost or stolen passport online at the US Department of State website.

    • Military ID: According to USA.gov, you are required to report the lost or stolen Military ID to your base security officer or though your chain of command. They will tell you how to proceed from there.

    • Student ID: Contact your school and report the ID missing or stolen to get a replacement.

    • Work ID:  Contact your work and report the ID missing or stolen to get a replacement.

    • If applicable, renew any ID cards that may be required for daycare or childcare pickup.

    • Health insurance card:  Contact your medical and dental insurance company and request a new policy number. Some thieves will use someone else's identity to go to a doctor and obtain prescription medication. Not only will you end up with a hefty medical bill, but your medical history will now interfere with the criminal's diagnosis and prescription.

    • Car insurance card:  Contact your auto insurance company and request a new policy number to prevent the thief from trying to use your insurance.

    • Transit pass: If your transit pass is connected to your credit card, make sure to cancel the old pass, obtain a new one, and update the new pass with the new credit card information once that gets sent to you.

    • Any membership cards: These include but are not limited to: annual passes to a resort, zoo, or amusement park, a gym membership, an automobile club card (AAA), and a library card. Contact each of these entities and request new cards, and in some cases, new account numbers.

    • Checkbook: When you call your bank, tell them to freeze your checking account so that any purchases made with your checks will be rendered invalid. Your account and routing numbers are on the check so it might be necessary to cancel that account entirely and open a new one.

    • Other forms of money, such as restaurant or retail store gift cards, VISA gift cards, and uncashed lottery tickets. If you have made copies of these, check for the "lost or stolen card" phone number on the back of the card.

  • Contact companies that you have set up automatic payments through. It’s easy to let your bills “pay themselves” through an automated bill-pay system. If your bank cards get stolen, however, you’ll have to wait for the new card numbers to update your accounts. Until then, your bills will not get paid. Forgetting to notify these companies of your situation can cause an increase in your interest rate and possible damage to your credit score.

  • One of the last things you will need to do is to submit a letter in writing. As time consuming as it might be, most banks and other institutions require you to send a hard copy notifying them that your wallet was stolen. This letter needs to be sent within 60 days of when the event took place.

What if your wallet is connected to your smartphone?

With Apple Pay and other convenient smartphone features, it has become common to keep your credit cards, flight tickets, and a lot of other private information stored on your phone. If your phone gets stolen, you may be at a greater loss because you no longer have a device to make the calls necessary to freeze your accounts, nor do you have phone access to the cloud if your back-ups are located there.

  • Log in to the Cloud (or wherever you store your documents digitally) from a trusted computer. Access the photocopies of your wallet's contents and start making phone calls!

A few more tips you shouldn't overlook!

  • Stay organized by manually recording the calls you made, the people you talked to, the dates in which you filed certain reports, and highlighting the days you need to follow-up (or are expecting a follow-up).

  • If your purse was stolen, there’s a chance that your house and car keys were stolen too. Thieves are creative in accessing private information, but sometimes our information is openly accessible so they don’t even need to get creative. Your address can be found in your license (unless it’s a mailing address) and possibly in other cards or documents in your wallet. You should notify your homeowner’s insurance company and have your locks changed as soon as possible. If your car keys were stolen, the first thing you should do is to make sure that your car is still where you parked it last. Then, call an auto locksmith to let you back into the car and disable your fob. Newer models have computer chips embedded on the keys which can be deprogrammed. Contact your car insurance company and they will guide you on how you should proceed from there.

  • As soon as you receive new bank cards, update the accounts that are set up with automatic payments. Also, change the account and routing information on all direct deposits.

  • When you receive your credit card and bank statements, review the purchases to make sure that any previous fraudulent charges have been cleared and no additional charges were overlooked.

  • Monitor your credit periodically. Each of the major credit reporting companies allows you one free credit check per year. Some people will take advantage of it by using one report every four months. Keep an eye on any possible fraudulent activity at least during the first year since the incident occurred. You can check your credit at AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you start to prepare for the possibility that someone may steal your wallet, you will be better equipped to act quickly and file all the necessary paperwork thoroughly.

A lost or stolen wallet can become a complete nightmare if your personal information lands in the wrong hands. Investing a few minutes now to protect your identity can be enough to turn an incredibly stressful situation into a minor hassle.

Has your wallet ever gotten lost or stolen? What did you learn from that experience? I'd love to hear your feedback in the comments!

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