“My wallet’s gone!”
Aren’t those words horrifying to even think about. There have been several instances in my life when I truly thought my wallet had been stolen. Those moments filled me with such fear and anxiety I could hardly think straight.
Of course the initial reaction is to panic as your mind starts ticking off all the items that might leave you financially vulnerable. Information like credit card numbers, social security card, driver’s license and home address could be exposed and make you at risk to identity theft.
What I realized is that I needed to keep my head…panicking didn’t help. I thought through where I had been and retraced my steps. In each of my situations I eventually found my wallet and life returned to normal.
However, if you are able to confirm that your wallet or purse has indeed been stolen, take these steps immediately to protect your financial assets and limit your exposure to identity theft.
Your Wallet/Purse is Gone…Now What?
1. File a Police Report. Report the theft to local law enforcement while the events are still clear in your mind. Don’t assume it’s a minor issue the police will not pursue. If identity theft occurs you will want documentation you reported the loss.
The report should include a physical description of the item with a listing of its contents. Include where you think it was stolen and any potential suspects. Finally, get the name and business card of the officer who filed the report for any follow-up communications.
2. Contact Your Bank and Other Card Issuers. You will want to contact your bank and issuers of all your credit, debit or ATM cards as soon as possible after the theft. Here’s why that’s important.
Per the FCBA, a person’s liability for the unauthorized use of a credit card cannot exceed $50. If you act quickly enough and report the loss before the card is used, then the FCBA says you are not liable for any charges.
Per the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) your liability for a debit or ATM card varies depending upon when you report the loss. If you report the card stolen before it’s used, your maximum loss is zero dollars. If the incident is reported within two business days, your maximum loss is $50. If you delay however and wait more than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you, the maximum loss could be all monies taken by the thief while using your debit or ATM card.
3. Initiate a Fraud Alert or Credit Freeze. This critical step brings in professional organizations that routinely monitor your credit.
When you issue a fraud alert, as a potential victim of identity theft you are authorized to receive a free credit report as part of your federal rights. Furthermore, any creditor will have to verify your identity before someone applies for new credit. This makes it extremely difficult for a thief to open a new line of credit and run up a huge bill in your name.
The three major credit reporting agencies you must contact to initiate a fraud alert are:
Equifax (800) 525-6285
Experian (888) 397-3742
Trans Union (800) 680-7289
4. Additional Tasks to Consider. Depending on the contents of your stolen wallet or purse you may have to follow through on some additional tasks including:
- Contacting your state agency if your driver’s license or registration was lost. Most likely you’ll need a replacement license with a new number.
- Opening new accounts at your bank if you’ve lost checking or savings account numbers.
- Notifying your health insurance company to request a new policy number.
- Finding out what to do if your social security card was stolen.
- Notifying your auto insurance company so the thief doesn’t use your information in case they have an accident.
Protecting Yourself in Advance
There are some steps you can take in advance to reduce your exposure to loss should your personal items be stolen.
For starters, review the items in your wallet or purse from time to time. A quick look through mine revealed two items I had forgotten were in there. Remembering the contents will be crucial when issuing the police report.
Also, clean them out from time to time. More than likely you have items (probably a credit card or two) that are not being used. It would be best to remove the unused items and have the credit card(s) cancelled.
In addition, stay cash poor. With today’s access to financial resources through debit and credit cards there’s little reason to routinely be carrying a thousand dollars in cash.
Finally, the Identity Theft Resource Center recommends you never carry these items:
- Your social security card
- Your birth certificate
- Bank account and routing numbers
- Password cheat sheets
All of these items facilitate the quick use of your identity by a criminal. It’s tough enough to keep them at bay. We don’t need to make their job easier.
Questions: Has your wallet ever been stolen? Did you ever get it back? Did it lead to a case of identity theft? What other measures would you consider taking if this happened to you?