Updated January 12, 2013

Lost Wallet: What To Do

Dude, Where's My Wallet?

If you have ever lost your wallet or purse before, you know the headache that comes with this simple misstep. First, you have to dig up all of the account information for the cards you *think* were in your wallet. Next, you contact each creditor to explain the situation. And then you wait nervously for the fallout that can happen when your information falls into the wrong hands.

Thankfully, there are some steps you can take now to prevent some of the headache and anxiety from future incidents. Taking these steps will save you both time and money by reducing your odds of fraud and ID theft.

Before You Lose It

These simple steps reduce the odds of your wallet being stolen in public and keep you organized. If you lose your wallet you will know its contents and who to notify.

  • Prevent theft: Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket while in a public place; wrap a rubber band around your wallet so you can feel if something is being picked from your pocket.

  • Get it returned: One study shows that keeping a picture of a baby in your wallet increases the odds of your wallet being returned in the event that it is lost.

  • Keep track of its contents: Check your wallet daily to assess its contents; create a record of account and phone numbers so you know who to contact in the event that items go missing. Include your driver’s license, insurance cards, credit cards and even gym card on your list.

  • Be smart about what you carry – Keep sensitive items like your Social Security card and PINs out of your wallet.

When Your Wallet Is Missing

The day will come when you can’t find your wallet. Here are some steps you should follow the moment you notice it’s missing to help increase your odds of locating the wallet before it falls into the wrong hands.

  • Think back to the last time you remember having your wallet and start looking in that location; retrace your steps to the moment you realized the wallet was missing.
  • Before starting your trek, call the places you visited so they can thoroughly check their locations.
  • Remember to check pants and coat pockets as well as your washer and dryer, couch, and car.

If You Don’t Think You Can Find It

If you’re fairly certain you can’t find your wallet, it’s best to assume the wallet was stolen. Take the following actions as soon as possible to decrease your liability and reduce the risk of fraud.

  • Take inventory: Look through your wallet and/or purse to see what is missing; make sure to look for keys, addresses, ID cards, insurance cards, vehicle registration, any bills you were carrying, store club cards and even your library card.

  • Contact the authorities: File a police report as soon as possible; this is necessary to help establish liability, reporting, correcting your credit report, and insurance issues.

  • Notify your banks and creditors as soon as possible: Federal law outlines that cardholders are responsible for up to $50 of unauthorized credit card use that happens before it is reported missing; once it is reported missing, the cardholder is no longer responsible for charges. Federal law also mandates that ATM or debit card liability is dependent upon when the card is reported missing. If you reported unauthorized usage within 2 business days of the occurrence, you’re responsible for the first $50; if it is reported after 2 business days, you’re responsible for up to $500; and if it’s not reported within 60 days, you could be responsible for the full loss.

  • Change automatic bill payment: If the incident required you to close out accounts, you will want to follow-up with your automatic bill payments to ensure account information is updated.

  • Notify the credit bureaus: You will want to place a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus to help prevent fraudulent accounts from being opened in your name. You just need to contact one of the three credit bureaus; they will share the information with the other two.

How to Follow Up

Once you have completed the initial contacts regarding your stolen wallet, you will want to do some follow-up to ensure your financial loss is kept to a minimum.

  • Review your statements: Sign into your online banking accounts on at least a weekly basis to ensure there are no questionable transactions. Then, when you get your monthly statement in the mail, go through it carefully once again to make sure you did not miss anything fishy.

  • Keep an eye on the mail: Watch your mailbox for any communications from collection companies and statements for accounts you never opened. Also, closely monitor your bills to make sure that you are still receiving all of the bills you typically get in the mail to ensure no one has changed the address associated with your accounts.

  • Check your credit: You will want to check your credit a week or two after the incident to ensure no new accounts or inquiries have appeared. Then, create a reminder on your calendar to check your credit again about two to three months after the incident to ensure your credit is still clean.

It may seem daunting, but if you keep organized files, these steps can be completed quickly and will save you quite a bit of money and stress.

Andrew Green is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Andrew Green at andrew@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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