A stolen wallet might top everyone’s list of everyday nightmares. And it’s scary for good reason: Armed with your driver’s license, credit cards, checkbook, and other information, thieves can do serious damage to both your bank accounts and your credit. To minimize the impact of a stolen wallet, take the following steps right away to protect yourself:
Call your banks
Your first concern should be protecting the money in your checking account(s) that could be stolen via your debit card. As soon as you realize your wallet is missing, call your bank. They will put an alert on your account which will help prevent criminals from accessing your funds. Additionally, the sooner you call the bank, the more protected you are. If the thief racks up charges, most banks will hold you liable for under $50, as long as you alerted them within 48 hours. If you go beyond that time frame before contacting them, you could be out as much as $500. This is even more imperative if you happened to have a checkbook or something else with your account numbers on it that could give thieves virtually unlimited access to siphon your funds.
Cancel your credit cards
Call your credit card companies and have them cancel your cards. Any charges will be declined, and any charges made before you reported it will be dismissed. They’ll issue you a new card with a new account number. Some cards make this easier than ever—some Discover cards, for example, offer a feature called “FreezeIt” that allows you to suspend your card with a touch of their app. Even so, it’s a good idea to maintain a list of your credit cards and their respective 800-numbers just for this reason.
File a police report
Even if you think there’s no way the perpetrator will ever be caught, it’s a good idea to file police report. It will give you leverage when disputing charges with your banks or fraudulent credit accounts with credit bureaus. And of course, some thieves may discard your wallet after they’ve taken some cash or one or two credit cards. In that case, the police will be able to find you quickly if your wallet, albeit lighter, shows up.
Confirm cancellations in writing
After you have canceled your credit cards and alerted your bank, make sure you send each institution a letter via USPS confirming the cancellation. Many banks and companies require a hard-copy notification within 60 days of the theft for them to permanently waive all fees and charges resulting from the theft.
Place a fraud alert with all major credit bureaus
Through TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax, the three major credit bureaus, you can place a fraud alert, which essentially freezes your credit file. Laws vary by state, but most states require the bureaus do this for free. Alerts last for at least 90 days, but some bureaus let you keep the alerts on longer, basically until you remove them. This measure can prevent the crooks from opening up new credit accounts in your name.
Contact your insurance companies
While it may not have crossed your mind, medical theft is a serious problem. There have been cases of people using stolen insurance cards to get expensive plastic surgeries and other medical care. Contact your insurance providers and tell them your account was compromised. They will freeze those cards and replace them with new account numbers.
Get a new driver’s license
Report your license stolen to the DMV and get a new one. In many states, if you present a copy of the police report, they will waive the replacement fee.
Ideally, you should never carry anything with your Social Security Number on your person. Combined with your date of birth and address, your Social gives identity thieves everything they need to pretend to be you. If, however, you had your Social Security card in your wallet, call the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. You are at a major risk of identity theft; with your information, the burglars can take out loans, open credit cards, and even buy or lease a car in your name, leaving you responsible for the payments.
In 30 to 60 days, check your credit report
One to two months after your wallet is stolen, go to annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to a free credit report from each one of the three credit bureaus every year. Stagger it so you access a free credit report every four months to ensure you’re safe. Review your report and look for any accounts you didn’t open or credit balances that don’t belong to you. If you belong to a free credit score monitoring program like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame, you’ll get an email if there are changes to your credit information, which could alert you to fraudulent activity.
While these steps will discourage most thieves, a few determined ones may not be deterred. They could go months without finding a way to use your information, but criminals are increasingly sophisticated and persistent in their approaches and often use stolen information months after it goes missing. In some cases, you may have to switch to a new bank to avoid continued theft.
Having your wallet stolen can be one of the most overwhelming financial events you can experience. By following these steps, you can protect your finances and your identity and stop the criminals from using your information.