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
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
- 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.
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!