There is never a good time to lose your wallet, but when it does happen, it’s always at the absolute worst times. If you’re anything like us (or George Costanza), your wallet is probably pretty full, and contains some of the most important parts of your life. First, there are the parts that are downright scary to lose, like your credit card, debit card, and driver’s license. Then, there are all other bits and pieces that you’ve held onto for a reason, whether it’s your now-teenager’s preschool photo (sob), being one punch away from a free frozen yogurt, the business card of someone you genuinely want to connect with, or receipts from a business trip that you’ve been meaning to expense but haven’t gotten around to yet. Oh, and if you’re wondering if you’re alone in your panic mode, you’re definitely not. According to the latest search data available, what to do when you lose a wallet is searched for nearly 4,400 times a month.
Instead of panicking, there are a few steps you should definitely take as soon as you lose your wallet. (Then you can resume your regularly scheduled life after you take all the necessary precautions.) And yes, timing does matter here — the longer you wait to get the process started, the more of a chance you’ll have of being out of some money. So if you’ve recently lost your wallet and found this article in a frantic Google search, take a deep breath, and start working your way through these steps.
Call Your Bank
First things first: call any bank you have a debit card with and report it stolen. If you get in there before someone uses your debit card, you’re off the hook in terms of charges. But if someone gets their hands on your debit card first, you are only liable for the first $50 of charges — as long as you report the card lost within the first two days of it being gone. After that, if you wait between two and 60 days, you’ll be responsible for up to $500 in unauthorized purchases. After 60 days you could be responsible for all the charges on the card.
And if for some reason you have your checkbook — or any of your personal checks — in your wallet, make sure you let the bank know about that, too. This also means you’ll have to change any direct deposit or auto-payments you have set up. In other words, don’t carry your checkbook in your wallet.
Call Your Credit Card Companies
Next, call all of your credit card companies and let them know that you’ve lost your card. The answer isn’t to fully close your credit card account — something that could impact your credit score. Instead, the credit card company will issue you a new card with a new number on your same old account. You likely won’t be held responsible for any charges made after your card went missing once you report that it’s gone, thanks to the fraud protection many cards now offer. The credit card company or your debit card issuer will lock your accounts so no one will be able to use them even if they find your wallet.
Most mobile banking apps also offer this feature so you can actually lock all your cards from your phone within minutes of realizing you have misplaced or lost your wallet.
File a Police Report
If your wallet is lost and not stolen, you may not think of (or want to) file a police report, but it’s an important step in the process. Just because your wallet wasn’t stolen, that doesn’t mean it won’t end up in the wrong hands, so you’re going to want the police to know what happened.
Will it mean you’ll get your wallet back? Probably not, but as Islat Mangla at Experian points out, it’ll help in case of identity theft. “If you are the victim of further fraud or identity theft down the line, a police report will help serve as evidence that you were, indeed, the victim of a crime,” she wrote. “Some credit card issuers or banks may also want the police report number as part of their fraud investigation.”
Have a Fraud Alert Put on Your Credit Report
Your next call should be to at least one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, asking them to put a fraud alert on your file in order to prevent identity theft in the future. Though ABC News recommends that you contact all three bureaus, Lifelock notes that you only need to contact one of them, and then it’s their responsibility to get in touch with the other two. Either way, here are the numbers you need: Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; Experian: 1-888-397-3742; and TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289.
File a Report with the FTC
As another precaution against identity theft, you should file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can complete a form online or call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338) to report possible identity theft. Again, it’s a case of being safe rather than sorry and using all available tools to help protect you from identity theft.
Get a New Driver’s License (Or Other Form of ID)
If your driver’s license was in your wallet, you’re going to need a new one of those, too. But most states won’t allow you to get a new license online, so this means a dreaded trip to the DMV. When you go, you’re going to need to present at least one other acceptable form of identification, like your Social Security card or birth certificate. In some cases, you may also need your police report or FTC report as proof that your license is actually gone.
Let Social Security Know
Ideally, you are not carrying your Social Security card around with you in your wallet. (Seriously, don’t do it.) But if for some reason you were when you wallet went missing, you’re going to need to call your local Social Security office ASAP. You’ll keep the same number and they’ll replace your card for free, but you’re going to have to fill out Form SS-5 and present other documentation to verify your identity.
Contact Your Insurance Company
If you had any insurance cards in your wallet — health, home, car, prescription, etc — you’re going to need to call your insurance companies right away and let them know. They will likely give you a new account number to ensure that a person who found your wallet can’t cash in on your sweet health insurance plan. Also, keep an extra close eye on your insurance claims to make sure that no one made any fraudulent claims, and report any suspicious activity right away.
Now, about those receipts you need to file for expenses. If you filled up with gas and bought supplies or took cabs and paid with cash, then unfortunately you might be out of luck there. But if you’re like most Americans you might have left a credit card trail that you might be able to retrace. If you used ride sharing services like Uber or Lyft, most major companies will accept receipts from the app as part of an expense report.
If you booked hotels or flights you probably used credit cards which you can access in your online statement. Other payment methods like Apple Pay will also have left a hefty paper trail so you might be able to salvage more than you think.
Make a List of Anything Else in Your Wallet
Once all the big stuff is out of the way, make a list of all the other things you had in your wallet that are now gone, and that you’d like to replace. This includes things like library cards, supermarket rewards cards, or a list of important phone numbers. You probably won’t get your originals back, but at least you’ll have a better idea of what you need to replace.
What if You Lost Your Wallet in a Foreign Country?
It’s scary enough when your wallet is lost or stolen on your home turf, but a living nightmare if it happens in a foreign country. The key is not to panic. You’re not the first nor the last and there are steps you can take immediately.
First, you must freeze your debit and credit cards right away. Thankfully, most banks and credit card companies have mobile apps that allow you to do that from your phone. Next, file a police report. This comes in handy for the same reason it does if your wallet is stolen or lost in the states: to thwart identity theft. Contact or visit your local embassy or consulate so they can help you take the next steps or help deal with a stolen ID or Passport. Finally, file a report with the FTC to report possible identity theft.
Preparing for the worst while traveling
Having your wallet stolen while traveling is, indeed, a nightmare. However, doing your due diligence before you leave can save you some headaches.
Photocopy Your Passport
Experienced travelers know to keep a photocopy of your passport in a separate location. In other words, if your passport was in your wallet or purse, the photocopy might be stashed in your luggage or the baby’s diaper bag. Taking that photocopy with you to the embassy will help you immensely.
Don’t carry all your money
Just like you budget in real life, budget for each day of travel and carry only what you need. This might look like keeping most cash or travelers’ checks in your hotel room safe. You could also consider opening a separate bank card for your trip and transferring the money you need to the card, as you need it.
Stash one credit card
If juggling funds sounds like a pain in the butt, at least consider leaving one credit card back at the hotel or in another safe location. (Like, switch one credit card each with your travel buddy.) Once you report your cards stolen and possibly close them, you won’t be able to use them. Having a card tucked away safely will help you continue your travels without much hassle.