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All is Not Lost

You reach into your purse or pocket, and it's gone. You've lost your wallet, or worse, it's been stolen. Now what?

Lindsay Morris
November 28, 2019

Few feelings are worse than the pit in your stomach that forms when you realize you’ve lost your purse or wallet — or realize it’s been stolen. Your first instinct may be to panic.

Should you call the police? Your mom? Try to chase down the thief? Your mind is spinning.

Sadly, the chance of having your purse or wallet stolen rises during the holidays. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, robbery increases by about 20% in December. Thieves prowl malls and shopping centers, looking for unlocked cars and unsuspecting victims.

If you’re fortunate enough not to be a victim of a robbery, you should also be aware that the chances of losing your purse or wallet also surge during the holidays. We’re all busier and more frantic this time of year, and it makes sense that we might accidentally drop our wallet in a parking lot or leave our purse in a bathroom stall.

What should you do if your valuable possessions go missing? After you determine that the wallet or purse is gone and not just hiding in a couch cushion or the backseat of your car, there are some steps you must take quickly.

Call the issuer of your debit card
Thieves can do a lot of damage with a debit card in a short period, so this should be your first line of action. According to lifelock.com, if you report your debit card missing within two business days, you will only be responsible for a maximum of $50 worth of unauthorized purchases. Most banks won’t even charge you that. Your bank will also go over recently listed purchases with your card to determine the last legal purchase you made before losing your debit card. If you wait more than two days and fewer than 60 to report your card missing, you could be responsible for up to $500 in illegal purchases. If you make your report after 60 days? Then you can be held accountable for every unlawful purchase made with your card.

Call the bank that issued your checkbook
While few of us carry around a checkbook anymore, if you do, you should be sure to call the bank that issued it. You will take some of the same steps you took for canceling your debit card since thieves can use checks to do a lot of damage quickly. You will need to know the numbers of the checks you lost to stop payment on them. Fortunately, this isn’t too hard to figure out. Check your bank statement to find the number of the most recent check that you wrote, then cancel every number between that one and the start of the next batch of checks in the box.

To solve the problem completely, you’ll have to close your account and open a new one.

Call your credit card companies
Call all of the companies that issued your credit cards. According to the Fair Credit Billing Act, you are not responsible for any fraudulent purchases on your credit card as long as you report your card stolen before a thief uses it. If a thief uses your credit card before you report it stolen, you’ll only be responsible for a maximum of $50 of unauthorized buys.

Set up fraud alerts with the national credit bureaus
To prevent thieves from stealing your identity, one of the best ways to guard yourself is to call one of the three national credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion — to request that they place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one of the bureaus. That bureau then must alert the other two so that they can place their fraud alerts on your credit reports. Your fraud alerts will remain in place for free for 90 days.

Here are the numbers of the three credit bureaus:
Equifax: 800-525-6258
Experian: 888-397-3742
TransUnion: 800-680-7289

Order credit reports
Everyone is entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three credit-reporting agencies. Be sure to monitor your reports for suspicious activity. To order your reports, visit annualcreditreport.com. Since each credit agency tracks the same information, stagger your requests so that you receive one credit report from each of the three every four months. This will allow you to check your credit more frequently without a fee.

File a police report
Local police often can’t do much to retrieve your possessions. Also, they may not prioritize your report unless there was more than one victim or violence was associated with it. However, you should still file a police report so that you have a record of the incident. It will make dealing with the situation go more smoothly if you have proof of what happened.

To file a report, contact the police precinct closest to the place where you believe your wallet or purse was lost or stolen. If you’re not sure where that was, reach out to the precinct closest to your home. Depending on where you are, you may have the option to file the report online.

After you file the report, get the report number and a copy of the report. Companies you work with to fix an identity theft issue will want to see this report, so make several copies, and be sure to keep the original.

Get a new driver’s license
If your driver’s license was in your wallet, you’ll need to replace it. If you don’t, you could face a hefty fine if you’re driving and a police officer stops you.

You might have to visit your local DMV to do this. The requirements for a new license vary by state, so make sure to check the website of your local DMV to make sure you have the proof of identity you need. Most states will require you to show proof of your residence, usually in the form of a utility or cable bill or some other paperwork with your name on it, your birth certificate, or your Social Security number.

Make a list of everything that was in your purse or wallet
Most of us carry a lot of cards. Write down everything you can remember carrying. Start by first replacing those items you need. You’ll need to replace insurance cards, for example, so that you can show them during doctor appointments.

Report if your Social Security number was stolen
It’s a good rule of thumb to not carry your Social Security card with you. If, however, you did have your Social Security card stolen, you’ll need to order a credit freeze with the three national credit bureaus. This may help prevent a thief from opening new credit under your name.

In most cases, the Social Security Administration will not give you a new Social Security number. They’ll give you a new card, but not a new number. You might, though, be able to convince the administration to provide you with a new number if you can prove that someone has used your current number to steal your identity. That’s where filing that police report, and showing a copy of that report as evidence, comes in handy.

Contact a lawyer
Identity theft almost always creates legal problems. Talk to your lawyer about what happened as well as the steps you’ve taken to protect yourself so far and find out if they have any other advice. Some states have laws and agencies to help identity theft victims, and a lawyer can point you in the right direction. If you don’t know a lawyer, then try the state attorney general’s office.

Consider changing the locks
If you kept a key to your home in your wallet or purse, you’ll need to change the locks to your house. Keep in mind that the thief has access to your address through your driver’s license. Avoid the risk of a break-in by quickly changing the locks to your home.

Get a new purse or wallet
After all the stress of trying to replace the contents of your purse or wallet, you can at least enjoy treating yourself to a new wallet or purse and commit to being more vigilant about protecting it.

April 2020 Cover