Do you know what to do if you lose your wallet? I didn’t! While I misplace my wallet all the time, I’ve only genuinely lost it once. Even though it wasn’t stolen, losing it proved to be quite a learning experience. Until then, I had not considered all the steps I would need to take to ensure my identity was secure.
When you lose your wallet, you need to deactivate and replace not only your credit cards but also any government-issued IDs. This can be time-consuming, but it is essential to limit your liability for any potential expenses incurred due to identity theft.
In my case, I had the good fortune of being able to consult a friend in law enforcement who guided me through the process. I was able to set things in order rather quickly, and, as far as I know, none of my personal information or accounts were compromised. In this article, we’ll go through everything you need to do if you find yourself in a similar situation.
But first, here’s the good news: people are more inclined to return a lost wallet than we might suppose. Researchers from the US and Switzerland conducted a test in dozens of countries and were surprised to realize that wallets with money were returned in 72% of cases. They found that the likelihood of return was more significant when more cash was in the wallet. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that you can sit back and wait for a good samaritan to do the right thing; the risk of having your identity or bank accounts compromised outweighs any possibility that your wallet will be safely returned.
Is your wallet genuinely lost?
Before you take steps to secure your identity, you should first determine whether your wallet is lost. Check any likely locations where you may have misplaced or dropped it, such as your car seat, couch, desk, and the bathroom. If you realize it is missing while you are away from home, do your best to retrace your steps quickly. If you recently visited a restaurant or other business, look up their number on your phone and try calling them. Someone may have turned it in. If you had a busy day and can’t recall where you last used it—perhaps because you alternated using cards from your wallet and cash kept in your pocket—you can log onto your bank or credit card accounts and see where you last used a card.
As you retrace your steps, try to recall if you stooped over or sat down and check those spots. If there are businesses or offices nearby such locations, you can stop in and ask whether anyone turned it in. People who find a wallet near a business will often assume that a customer dropped it, so they will leave it there, hoping the owner will return to collect it.
If you often misplace your wallet or other personal belongings, developing strategies for minimizing such occurrences is a good idea. Psychologists refer to these strategies as forms of “effortful processing,” and they can be effective even for people who find that their memory is slipping. The most straightforward strategy is to practice consciously stating what you are doing when you set something down. In Psychology Today, Susan Krauss Whitbourne explains, “You’ll have fewer lost umbrellas and cellphones if you… rehearse mentally, ‘I’m putting the cellphone on the counter.” The same holds for your wallet.
Deactivate Your Cards
If you’ve determined that your wallet is well and truly lost, you should immediately contact your credit card company, bank, or credit union and have them deactivate your cards. Laws protect consumers from financial liability from lost or stolen cards, but the limits of such liability vary. To ensure the most significant level of legal protection, you must report a lost or stolen credit/debit card as soon as possible. Visa allows you to file a report directly on their website, and Mastercard’s customer service page will help you locate the contact information for the institution that issued your Mastercard. Your bank or credit union will generally mail a new card to you within a couple of days.
File a Police Report
If your lost wallet contained credit cards or state-issued identification, you must file a police report. If your identity is stolen, you will need to have a police report documenting the loss. This will limit your liability for any fraudulent charges made on your cards and the illegal use of your ID. When you file the report, tell the officer exactly what occurred; do not lie or embellish. Once they have taken your report, ask for a copy and keep it with your records.
Report Your Missing ID
If your driver’s license or other state-issued identification were in your wallet, you would need to call the agency that issues the IDs—usually the department of motor vehicles (DMV). They will instruct you on how to receive a replacement. This typically requires scheduling an appointment and paying a small fee. When you attend your appointment, you must bring one or more valid forms of identification, such as a birth certificate or passport. It is illegal to have multiple driver’s licenses in your possession, so if you end up finding your wallet or if it is returned, you will need to destroy the old (now invalid) ID.
Reporting Other Lost Account Cards
While reporting a lost credit card or ID is your top priority, you may also need to contact other offices. For example, if you have an insurance card in your wallet, you must contact the issuing company. Similarly, you need to call the appropriate agency if you have government benefit cards, such as Medicare or Medicaid. In each case, they will deactivate your existing account numbers and issue you a replacement. When speaking to representatives from such organizations, ask what you should do if you have a medical emergency before your new card arrives.
Monitor Your Credit
Even after deactivating all of your credit cards, you should regularly monitor your credit report and notify the relevant institution if you find that there is unauthorized activity. You could also pay for an agency to watch your credit for you.
You can freeze your credit if you suspect that your identity was stolen and that someone might try to open new accounts with your information. Mike Azzara of American Express explains that the process is not as time-consuming or complicated as people might imagine; it can be completed online by visiting the websites of the three agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. It is worth noting that in the United States, federal law prohibits credit agencies from charging fees for placing a freeze.
Follow Up When Contacted
If you complete the steps outlined above, you will have done everything necessary to limit your liability for any expenses incurred should your identity be stolen. While you might not exactly rest easy, you have done all you can. If the police, credit agencies, or your banking institution contact you about the incident, you should follow up with them promptly. Always be honest and forthright about the facts. However, do not provide any identifying information over the phone to someone who claims to be contacting you about a case of identity theft. This is, unfortunately, a common phishing scheme. If you have any doubts about whether the person contacting you is who they say they are, ask for their extension and call them back using the company or agency’s main phone number.