You've lost your wallet, and you are worried. For good reason. Any cash inside the wallet is probably the least of your concerns. Inside that wallet is your driver's license, your debit card, your credit cards, a health insurance card and maybe a few gift cards or loyalty cards.
You have every reason to be frustrated. But try to stay calm. Instead of panicking, follow these steps.
1. Try to find the wallet.
2. Contact your debit and credit card issuers and get new ones.
3. Freeze your credit.
4. Contact the police.
5. Contact the department of motor vehicles.
6. Contact your health insurance company.
7. Consider paying for a credit monitoring service.
8. Prepare for if it happens again.
1. Try to Find the Wallet
We'd be remiss if we didn't suggest that before you contact your credit card company and go to a lot of trouble to fix things, give yourself ample time to look for your wallet. This is assuming your wallet has been lost and not stolen.
Ask yourself, "Where did I last see my wallet?" If you don't know, retrace all of your steps since you remember seeing it. You'll save yourself a lot of time and hassle if you do find it.
Contact Your Debit and Credit Card Issuers and Get New Ones
It's a chore to have to do this (which is why it's important to look everywhere for your card first). But, yes, cancel your credit and debit cards and request new ones if you know you left your wallet on a subway or near a park bench.
Fill the customer service representative in on the details of how you lost your wallet or how it was stolen, rather than just telling them you need a new card. Hopefully that will put your bank or credit card issuer on guard in case a thief later uses any of your identification to try and, say, take money out of your account.
3. Freeze Your Credit
"With a freeze on your credit, lenders are unable to view your credit history or pull your credit report," says John Davis, a financial education ambassador with ScoreSense, a Dallas-based provider of credit related information and services.
Of course, you're thinking, "I'm not worried about lenders viewing my credit history. I'm worried about a con artist taking out a loan in my name."
Right. Which they can't do if new lenders can't view your credit.
"Your credit isn't entirely frozen. Banks and lenders you already work with can still view your credit," Davis says, adding that you can always lift the freeze yourself whenever you need to.
But this is a fix that you'll want to put in place for a while, if not indefinitely, to prevent an identity thief from buying a new car in your name or taking out credit cards in your name.
4. Contact the Police
If your wallet has been stolen, that's obviously an immediate must-do. Call the cops. But Davis says you should do that even if the wallet has been lost. Credit bureaus like Experian recommend that as well.
And why would you involve the police if you know that nobody stole your wallet? You should do it because a criminal could be the one who finds your wallet.
"If a thief steals your identity in the future, for instance, the police report is a record of the evidence that you were a victim of identity theft," Davis says. He advises getting a case number and a hard copy of the police report for your files.
If a thief is pretty successful at taking out a loan in your name, and a lender, for whatever reason, doesn't believe that you were a victim of identity theft, that police report will be a helpful piece of evidence that you're telling the truth -- and that you aren't the one who took out the loan.
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5. Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles
You aren't likely to forget to do this, but assuming you have a car, you'll need to ask the DMV to replace your driver's license. Might as well get on this and do it soon.
6. Contact Your Health Insurance Company
Yes, another phone call. You'll need to replace your medical insurance card, and you should mention to the customer service rep what has happened. They may or may not want to issue you a new number, but regardless, you want it on record that your wallet -- with your medical card -- was lost or stolen. It seems unlikely that a thief would, say, go to the dentist and then try to get your insurer to pay for the visit, but you never know.
7. Consider Paying for a Credit Monitoring Service
On one hand, credit cards and banks are generally excellent about noticing credit card thievery and alerting consumers to suspicious behavior. You could make a good argument that even if a pickpocket snatched your wallet, or it fell out of your pocket somewhere, that if you have new credit and debit cards and a new driver's license, you don't need to pay for a credit card monitoring service -- especially if you're periodically requesting your credit report from the three main credit bureaus to review.
In fact, right now, until April 2021, you can go to AnnualCreditReport.com, a website run by the three main credit bureaus, and request a free weekly credit report. Typically, you'd be able to get one free credit report from each bureau a year, but in April 2020, the website began offering it weekly, to help people in these tumultuous and financially challenging times.
Still, if your wallet has been lost or stolen, and you want that extra peace of mind, you might want to pay for a service to alert you to any possible instances of identity theft. Plans for these services often cost between $15 and $35 a month.
8. Prepare for if It Happens Again
You could purchase a Bluetooth tracker designed for the wallet. You put these tiny, slim trackers into your wallet -- generally, they fit in there like a credit card would -- and if you lose your wallet, you use your smartphone to find the Bluetooth tracker inside your wallet.
If you lose your phone, you can often use the Bluetooth tracker in your wallet to find your phone.
Some of the many popular brand names for Bluetooth tracker wallet finders are Chipolo One, Tile Mate, Cube Shadow and Safedome Recharge.
Keep in mind that with many of these devices, if not all of them, you have to be within a certain range of your wallet, often 200 to 300 feet, for these gadgets to work. So they tend to be excellent for finding your lost wallet in your cluttered home office but not so great if you left your wallet on a bus.
Patti Black, a certified financial planner and partner at Bridgeworth Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama, has a low-tech solution you may also want to try.
She says that her wallet wasn't stolen, but once her car was broken into at a state park, and the credit card was swiped from the billfold.
"My recommendation is to take action beforehand so you can be better prepared if your wallet is stolen," Black says.
She recommends copying or scanning the front and back side of all documents in your wallet such as the driver's license, credit cards and insurance cards.
If your pocketbook or purse is stolen or lost, according to Black, you'll have an easier time contacting places like credit card companies and the DMV since all of your information will be right in front of you.
In other words, there may not be much you can do to keep from having your wallet stolen or losing it, but if it does happen, a few preventive measures may go a long way.