According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ most recent figures, 17.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2014. The bulk of these incidents arose from unauthorized activity on existing credit cards or bank accounts, which can be a great cause for alarm if you happen to lose your wallet to a thief. Have you ever lost a wallet or gotten a wallet stolen? Do you know what to do when your wallet is stolen?
What to do Do When Your Wallet Is Stolen
If you can’t find your wallet, credit and ATM cards, driver’s license, and other personal information and you suspect they were stolen rather than misplaced, there are a few steps you should take (immediately) to protect yourself:
File a Police Report
Once you are sure that your wallet has been stolen and not misplaced or lost somewhere in your home or car, then calling your local police department or filing a police report online is one of the first things you should do. Even if you don’t believe the police will ever find the culprit who stole your wallet, it’s important to have a legal paper trail. This will reduce headaches later on if you need to replace your ID cards or if a potentially fraudulent transaction appears on your credit card or credit history.
Filing a report also protects you from any troubles that might arise from not having your driver’s license with you. If you need a copy of your police report instead of just the case number, you can usually request it at your local police department building or online.
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Report It To Your Bank and Credit Card Companies
According to the law advice website Nolo, your responsibility for fraudulent charges on ATM and debit cards depends on when you report the card stolen or missing. If you report your ATM/bank card loss immediately and there are no charges yet, you’ll be held liable for $0 of the fraudulent charges thereafter. Your maximum liability increases to $50 if you wait two business days to report the loss.
If you wait too long (more than two business days after noticing the card is gone) but you still report the loss, you could be liable for as much as $500 in losses. Do not fail to notify your bank within a 60-day timeframe (or at all). If you do, then you could very well be responsible for all of the unauthorized withdrawals on your account balance.
This proves it is crucial to report losses ASAP, preferably in writing to minimize any miscommunication problems between you and your bank.
The same holds true for credit cards, but there is significantly more protection here. Many credit card companies have their own fraud alert systems – e.g., a text when your card is used to buy more than $99 in gas or a phone call if your card was used in a different state or country – but it’s also important to report the loss of your cards immediately.
At most, you could be held liable for $50 in purchases – only if the thief uses your physical credit card to make a purchase, since online and telephone orders carry $0 liability for cardholders – but many credit card companies waive the $50 in many cases.
Important Note: Don’t cancel your cards altogether in the event of theft. This could impact your credit score by shutting down credit lines, so report the theft and request a new card to be sent to you in the meantime.
Contact the Credit Bureaus
When you lose your wallet, your first thought is probably to freeze your credit cards and get a new driver’s license. However, it’s important to cover all of your bases during this troubling time, which includes contacting one of the three credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax – and letting them know about the theft. This way, your credit history shouldn’t be affected if someone tries to open a new credit account in your name (the credit reporting agencies will demand extra identity verification if there is a fraud alert on your account).
Within a few months, request a free credit report from one of the three reporting agencies to check for discrepancies on your credit history. These reports will allow you to see if anyone attempted to take out a loan or line of credit in your name without your prior authorization, as well as any other credit-related problems that could arise after your personal information is stolen.
Avoid ID Theft
If you have your Social Security number memorized and you leave the card at home in a safe place, then you should be fine when it comes to tax fraud. However, if your Social Security card was in your wallet at the time of the theft, you should definitely call the IRS at 1-800-908-4490 to minimize the chance of tax-related fraud.
Unlike credit card companies, the Social Security Administration does not issue a new card with a new number if your original card is stolen. They will replace it for you, but it’s worth the extra effort to place fraud alerts on your accounts.
It is also recommended that you file a complaint with the FTC if you suspect your identity might be or has been stolen.
Set Up DMV Appointment
Nobody likes the DMV, but procrastinating on your driver’s license replacement after it is stolen can lead to more problems than it’s worth. Depending on the state of issuance, you may have to have a police report in hand in order to report a stolen driver’s license.
In some instances, you can request a duplicate license by ordering a replacement online. Otherwise, you may have to set up an appointment at your local DMV to get your new license.
It’s illegal to drive without your license or DMV issued paper stating you’ll be receiving your license very soon. So, be sure to get this done within a couple days of realizing your wallet went missing.
Request a New Medical ID Card
Many healthcare facilities and providers accept your driver’s license as a valid alternate ID to your medical card, but if you lost your wallet, then you probably have neither form of identification. To ameliorate this problem and get the medical care and prescriptions you need in a timely manner, contact your health insurance company for a replacement card and tell the representative that your card was stolen, just so they’ll have a record of it.
Speaking of medical issues, you should also take steps to avoid medical identity fraud as well. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, medical identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information – including your Medicare number – and uses it to acquire medical treatment, prescription drugs, and other health-related services on your dime.
For a couple months after your wallet and its contents are stolen, you should keep an eye on your medical bills to detect any unknown charges. If you suspect there are any issues, you should contact your health service provider. If you currently have Medicare, contact the HHS Inspector General’s office at 1-800-447-8477.
Losing your wallet – whether you leave it at a crowded public place or a thief nabs it from you – can be an anxiety-inducing experience. However, by following all of the steps outlined above, you will have peace of mind knowing you did everything a person can do when a wallet is stolen. And, your finances and credit history will no longer face a substantial risk from identity theft.
Have you ever lost a wallet or gotten a wallet stolen? Do you know what to do when your wallet is stolen? Did I forget any other key steps to take?