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What to Do When You Lose Your Purse or Wallet

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You walk up to the register to make a purchase like you have done a thousand times before. Only this time it’s different. When you reach for your wallet, there is nothing there. Panic sets in. Did you leave it at home? Is it in your car? Was it stolen? There is nothing scarier than a lost purse or wallet. It is your lifeline, and a key to your wealth and identity. I have never lost my wallet for more than a day or so, but that feeling of panic is not a good feeling!

Lost Purse or Wallet? What to Do When Your Wallet or Purse is Lost or Stolen

Lost purse? What to do when you lose your purse or wallet

What would you do if you lost this?

When you first realize your purse or wallet is lost or stolen, you shouldn’t panic – nor should you assume it is sitting at home on the coffee table. You should immediately make a diligent and thorough search of your home, car, place of work, or anywhere else you may have been between the last time you remember using it and when you discovered it was missing. Once you have discovered it is truly gone, follow these steps:

File a Police Report

Though it might seem a little mundane to report a lost purse or wallet to the police, you need to do this to cover your tracks. Identity theft is a real threat and the credit bureaus and your bank will want police reports if you ever claim fraudulent uses on your credit cards or credit report. Be sure to save a copy of the report – you might need it!

Contact Credit Card Issuers

You will need to inform your credit card issuers that your cards were lost or stolen and to be on the lookout for fraudulent activity. Most credit card issuers will immediately cancel your credit cards and issue you a replacement card with a new number and new expiration date. This will be a hassle for any automatic payments you had set up, but it will limit the damages to your credit and limit your losses!

Your credit card losses are limited to $50. If you lose your card and report it before it is used, you cannot be held liable for any charges made on your card. If your card is used before you can report it, the most you can be held liable for is $50 in fraudulent charges. It’s also good to know that if the loss only involves your credit card number, but not the card itself, then you have no liability for unauthorized use.

Contact Your Bank

Chances are you carry around a Debit or ATM card and/or checks. If so, you need to alert your bank that they have been lost or stolen – and the sooner the better because your liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your ATM or debit card depends on how quickly you report the loss! My debit card number was stolen once, and I was lucky not to incur any losses. But of your card is stolen, you may be responsible for losses, depending on your situation.

ATM losses range from $50 – $500 – unlimited. If you report an ATM or debit card missing before it’s used without your permission, the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized transfers. If unauthorized use occurs before you report it, your liability under federal law depends on how quickly you report the loss.

Limit of $50 in losses. If you report the loss of your ATM card within two business days after you realize your card is missing, you will not be responsible for more than $50 for unauthorized use. Limit of $500 in losses. If you more than two business days after you discover the loss to report the card missing you could lose up to $500 from unauthorized transfers. Unlimited ATM losses. Finally, you also risk unlimited losses from your bank account if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer within 60 days after your bank statement containing unauthorized use is mailed to you.

Cancel the old ATM card. When you inform the bank your ATM card was lost or stolen, be sure to request a new card with a new number. This will allow you to continue access to your funds.

Contact the Three Credit Bureaus

Contact the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, and place a fraud alert on your credit report. This will help you fight fraudulent claims and make it easier to protect your credit score. To do this you will need to contact the fraud departments of each bureau.

Contact the fraud units of the three major credit reporting bureaus:

  • Equifax (800-525-6285);
  • Trans Union: (800-680-7289); and
  • Experian: (888-397-3742).

Lost Driver’s License, Social Security Card, and other Important Cards

Many people carry around other important cards in their purse or wallet. If you lose these, you can be in a world of hurt, as thieves may be able to steal your identity from the information they get from your cards.

Lost Social Security card. First, you should never carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet unless you need to show it to an employer or service provider. After you use the card for that purpose, leave it at home under lock and key. If your SSN is stolen, you will need to get a replacement card and contact the Social Security Administration (SSA). Here is more info from the SSA about a lost or stolen SS card.

Lost driver’s license. You will need to report a missing driver’s license to your state’s department of motor vehicles. Depending on which state you are in, they may issue you a new driver’s license number and place an alert on your old driver’s license number.  In some states your driver’s license number is your SSN, and this gives thieves access to everything they need to steal your identity – a picture ID, your SSN, and your address.

Other important cards: If you carry any of these cards, be sure to immediately notify their fraud department to place a fraud alert on your account or get a replacement issued.

  • Health insurance
  • Passport
  • Military ID
  • Library card
  • Store cards
  • Membership Club cards

Monitor Your Statements and Credit Reports

Doing the steps outlined above is only half the battle. Filing a police report, canceling credit cards and ATM cards, placing fraud alerts on your credit report, and reporting other lost information will go a long way in protecting your identity and limiting your financial losses. But you will need to be vigilant and monitor your credit reports to detect any fraudulent activity. The problem with a stolen social security number is that thieves can steal your identity at any time, meaning you will probably need to monitor your credit reports for the rest of your life.

How to monitor your credit report for fraudulent activity. Everyone is eligible to receive one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can order these free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. The most effective way to monitor your credit is to stagger your free credit reports and get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 4 months. Monitoring your credit report three times per year will give you the information you need to protect your identity.

You can also purchase an identity theft alert service such as GoFreeCredit which gives you a 3-bureau credit report and will notify you if your credit report or score changes, alert you to potentially fraudulent activity, any new financial accounts or applications, address changes, and monitor your public records. You can start with a free 30 day trial.

I hope you never experience a lost or stolen wallet or purse. But if you do, I hope to have given you the tools to mitigate your losses!


Published or updated October 29, 2012.
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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kristen

I’m grateful that I’ve never had my whole wallet or purse stolen. I did have the unpleasant situation of going to the grocery store, reaching for my debit card, and realizing it was gone. I had been to a restaurant for lunch earlier in the day, paid with my card, and apparently the server didn’t give it back to me. We were in a hurry to get back to work, and in the hustle to get out of the door I failed to notice I didn’t have my card.

The restaurant eventually “found” my card but wouldn’t say where, which I thought was very suspicious. I had already cancelled it, fortunately before anyone could use it. I monitored my bank account very closely for awhile too. I was lucky.

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2 Ryan

Kristen: Glad to hear nothing bad happened from it!

As for the restaurant not answering where they found it, that could be for many reasons, so I wouldn’t look to much into it. :-)

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3 Manshu

About a couple of decades ago someone stole my uncle’s wallet. The thief kept all the money (there were no credit cards) but mailed my uncle’s driving license and bus pass back to him :)

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4 Ryan

Manshu: That’s funny! (after the fact of course!).

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5 Craig

Good tips, not something you want to happen but it may nevertheless. Contact the proper people and cancel the cards is def the first move. On a side note I actually just lost my cell phone and had to stop and cancel the service for that.

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6 Ryan

Good call on the cell phone. You should notify them immediately because there are ways to charge certain things to cel phones – long distance, ring tones, etc. Thieves and troublemakers can cause you a very expensive problem!

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7 FFB

Great advice! It’s really important to know what’s in your wallet in case something happens to it.

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8 RyansDad

I have never had a wallet stolen, but I lost a wallet with about $500 to $700 of cash on the way to a vacation. We were driving to Disney World in Florida from North Carolina.I stopped at a gas station on the way down. About 30 to 45 minutes down the road, I realized I didn’t have the wallet anymore! I decided to turn around and try to see if I left it at the gas station. I looked everywhere, and couldn’t find it! We decided to pull up the on ramp exit back to the highway. Guess what? I saw money blowing across the road! I pulled over–and it was like an Easter Egg hunt–I was very lucky and found every dollar and my wallet. It turns out, I had set the wallet on top of my car and later drove off and it obviously fell off on the on ramp. Needless to say I was ecstatic and we went on to enjoy a great vacation!

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9 Christina

I had my wallet stolen out of my office when I worked at a college. I called the police right away and they walked me through the same steps you’ve included here. Fortunately, I didn’t have any cash in my wallet and nothing bad happened with the cards… but it is unnerving to think criminals could know your address, etc.

This is a great post!

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10 Ryan

Thanks, Christina! I’m glad to hear your experience wasn’t too bad!

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11 Enrique S

I have all of my credit cards information listed on an Excel file. This includes the account number, security code (the three digit code on the back of the card), the expiration date, and the phone number for customer service. This way, when disaster strikes, you only have to look in one place for all of the contact information. I do the same thing for insurance and bank accounts, also.

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12 Ryan

Enrique: It’s good to have that information available, but I recommend encrypting it so no one has easy access to it should they get a hold of the file.

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13 Ryan

RyansDad: Glad to hear your story had a happy ending! Thanks for sharing. :-)

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14 Kristy @ Master Your Card

I’m glad you mentioned this, Ryan! With identity theft so rampant, it is vital that we are diligent about protecting it. These are all fantastic tips, and the best way to avoid any long-standing issues.

Just as note, while it is best to get a copy of the police report if you can, your bank or credit union probably won’t require the actual report. They usually want just the case number. The reason for this is to put a little of the responsibility back on the consumers. If you’re purse or wallet is stolen, your bank or credit union expects you to take some initiative in the process.

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15 Ryan

Thanks for the additional info, Kristy! :)

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16 Ace

Getting back those identification cards are the hardest part of all of this. I’ve known some people who lost their ID’s and had a stranger mail it back.

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17 Captain Insanity

My roommate claims he has lost his wallet 5 times within the course of one year. I suggested he get a chained-wallet, but I think he is in need of higher help.

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18 Keane

Guys i need help.. if im 13.. if i loose my medicare card + my carte opus, what should i do, besides the police thing..?

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19 Ryan

Keane, Here is what to do if you lose your Medicare Card: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/medi-assur/res/faq-eng.php#a7

I don’t know what you can do about the Carte Opus.

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20 joshua ansu

i dont really want to go to the police about my lost wallet what else can i do to get a report

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21 Ryan

Josh, Judging by your e-mail address, it appears as though you are in the UK. I’m based in the US, so I’m not too familiar with your options. Best of luck.

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22 Victoria

My dad was just at a cemetary today and the gravestone of my grandfater was about thirty feet away. My dad came to his car and his wallet, diploma, cash, credit cards, and work info. was all gone! He reported the police, and we’re wishing for good luck. The wallet had $2,000 in it!

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23 ashley

I had my wallet stolen earlier today. We went to see our brother in his the city parade. I had the purse on a wagon that we were using to carry our chairs and it fell off. We were told that a city worker picked it up. We asked the city officials there and no one turned it in. This was a huge mistake and I am out my license, cell phone, and $160. Huge mistake. My phone service was turned off. I can get a new license, and maybe a cellphone due to my insurance, but the $160 was from unemployment. So, not sure what we will do about Christmas dinner. I wish I had some sort of identity protection. I am just glad I had my car keys in my pocket, instead of the purse. I just wish one of the workers would return it, I can call Monday and see if it is in the office. However, I highly doubt it.

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