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What to do when you've lost your wallet

Updated on October 20, 2010
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First things first

 As soon as you realize your wallet is missing, or immediately after it's stolen, do this:

Be sure that it's not just misplaced. There's a lot of things to do that would be entirely unnecessary if the wallet is only left somewhere unusual. Give yourself a few hours to be sure it's nowhere you could recover it. Call or visit everywhere you've been since you last saw it. If someone finds it and keeps it for you, be sure to offer them a reward-- even a small one makes it worth the effort of being honest, and rewards good behavior.

Make a list of everything in it. No matter how small or how big, think about your wallet and list each and every item in it. First, it's important for the authorities to know exactly what items were lost, and second, things that have no value still identify the wallet as yours. Make sure you describe the wallet itself, and mention any identifying markers on the cards or other items in the wallet-- that chipped corner, that stain, the note in your handwriting-- so it's obvious that it belongs to you if they find it.

Make a list of where it might have been lost, or who might have taken it. This gives the authorities an idea of where to start looking, and flags the places where it might turn up. If identity theft occurs, it helps the search for the perpetrator.

Report it

First and foremost, report the cards missing to any banks or credit companies they're drawn on. Usually, this will be an easy process and will seal your accounts against unlawful use. The banks will send you new cards within a few days or weeks-- make sure they have new numbers and aren't just replacement cards with the same numbers.

If you have checks in your wallet when it's taken, the best thing to do is to close your account and open a new one. Call the bank to report the problem, and then go to the branch in person and talk to a banker face to face. Get all the information, and be sure you read all the paperwork you sign. Afterward, they'll keep an eye on the old account to be sure no one tries to use it, and should call you if someone does, which will verify it was or wasn't you and will help the search for whoever is attempting to take your information.

File a report with the cops. If your wallet was stolen, this will probably be part of the crime scene report; if it was lost, it should be done anyway, to add more paperwork to the trail if someone tries to steal your identity. Give them copies of your lists, and make sure you get a copy of the report for your own paperwork.

Contact the credit bureaus. It's very easy to file an alert-- Experian lets you do it online, and Equifax and Transunion offer dedicated phone numbers. You can put up a 90 day warning or a 7 year warning, both of which require that any line of credit that's attempted on your name has to be verified by you before it will be approved-- and should lead directly to someone posing as you. If you file the warning with one, they are bound by law to report it to the others.

File a report with the Federal Trade Comission. They can't do anything about it, but they help build cases against the thieves if someone steals your identity. You can also contact the FBI, who can do something about it, and file a report there, too.

Get new cards

ID cards and Drivers Licences can be a pain, but a police report should allow you to get them replaced for free. Do a search online to find your state's DMV, and there should be the appropriate paperwork that you can download and take to the office. If you're lucky, you might even be able to file it online.

Social Security Cards can be replaced as many as ten times in a lifetime, and no more than three of those in a single year, but the paperwork for that is online, too. Do a search for 'replace lost or stolen Social Security Card' and you'll find it. You'll probably have to take it into the local office in person.

You'll most likely have to have several forms of identification and / or proof of residence for both of these. Birth certificates and passports count as ID, and things like utility bills in your name or bank statements with your name and address should count as PoR; if you don't have utilities in your name, there's usually paperwork that someone in your house can file to verify that you live there with them.

As for membership cards and the rest, you'll have to replace all of them at the places they come from, but most places will do so quickly and easily. Some might even let you replace them online.

Further measures

If you would like to take further measures, you can contact the check verification services like TeleCheck and report lost checks to them. You can sign up with one of the identity theft protection services. And check your Credit Report regularly to be sure everything there is from you. There are several companies that allow you year-round access, and everyone is entitled to one free check a year.

And you can take these steps to avoid having these problems again:

- Don't carry any identifying paperwork that you don't have to: leave youe Social Security Card and things like your birth certificate and passport in a safe place at home unless you specifically need them for something you're doing today, and be sure to put them away afterward.

- Carry only the credit cards you need, and leave the rest somewhere else. They'll still be available if you lose your wallet, and they won't fall into criminal hands.

- Don't carry your checks in the same wallet as the rest of your cards. Most places these days don't take checks anyway, and all they do is give someone your account number. If you carry a few emergency checks, keep them in a separate pocket in your bag or somewhere else entirely.

- Keep a stash of emergency cash somewhere safe. Not too much, but enough for food and gas and such for the two weeks or so until you get your cards back. Only carry small amounts of cash on you, so you don't lose hundreds of untracable income if your wallet goes missing again.

- Keep a list of everything in your wallet, and keep it updated. If possible, keep it online somewhere safe like Google Documents so you can access it from anywhere.

- Don't carry passwords or account numbers in your wallet. At all.

- Spread the word of what to do, so other people can avoid identity theft, too.


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