Last week my wife had a really rough day. On the way back from the park with our kids she noticed her wallet was missing. After returning to the scene she recovered her wallet, but all of her credit cards, debit cards, and drivers license had disappeared. This triggered a few hours of work on our part to close out accounts, and this post: What to do for a stolen wallet.
Preventative Measures for a Stolen Wallet
My wife was actually quite lucky. While her wallet was stolen the impact was relatively easy to cleanup. There are steps you can take before hand to reduce the risks of identity theft and hours of other headaches if your wallet is stolen. These are:
- Do not carry your social security card in your wallet. There is no logical reason why you would need this card on a regular basis. If your wallet was compromised so would your social security number. Don’t do it!
- Only carry cards and other items you need. The more cards for accounts you hold in your wallet the more accounts you have to close. As such you should only carry the cards you use. Take that old credit card you never use and put it in a sock drawer.
- Do not carry your check book or checks. I know usage of check books in general is becoming rarer, but lost checks can be a pain because to resolve the issue you would need to close and open a new account with a new number. Not fun.
- Do not carry account login information. Sort of self explanatory. Having something like your ATM pin in your wallet with your ATM card is just asking for trouble.
- Keep an inventory of everything in your wallet. This way you know who to call. Consider also writing down all the card numbers and contact numbers so you do not have to look for them should something occur.
What to do after you experience a Stolen Wallet
These steps will make your life easier in the case of a stolen wallet. However, it will not necessarily eliminate the risk of improper charges or, worse, identity theft. Identity theft is especially a worry. Some membership accounts may even use your social security number as a unique identifier. But even if your social security number does not exist in your wallet the risk of identity theft increases with the availability of the information in your wallet. People can call and use social engineering, the art of conning someone out of information by pretending to be someone they are not, to potentially obtain more powerful data. As such if a stolen wallet occurs you need to be prepared to act:
- Report the stolen wallet to police and get a copy of a police report. Honestly it is very unlikely the police will find whom stole your wallet or even spend any time looking for it. But having the report will be necessary if you run into identity fraud down the line.
- Report a fraud alert to the big credit reporting companies. You can report directly to Trans Union and they will pass along to the other credit reporting companies. A temporary 90 day alert should be all you need to start. If you encounter issues you can request an extended 7 year alert. These alerts identify companies to be extra diligent when checking id for your credit since you have been a victim of fraud.
- Call any ATM, HSA, or Debit card companies immediately and have the card cancelled and replaced. Liability on debit cards, unlike credit cards, is uncapped if left unreported. They typically leave you liable for 50 dollars if notified within 2 business days. 500 dollars if before 60 days. And finally unlimited if you wait more than 60 days after you realize the card is missing. Needless to say you want to cancel these cards before they are used to avoid any hassle. Cancelling the cards at our bank took 5 minutes on the phone, and since most joint accounts these days have different card numbers for each authorized user, we can still access the account via my card while we wait for a replacement.
- Call any credit card companies and have the card cancelled and replaced. Also report the fraud to them. Unlike debit cards you are only liable here for $50.
- Keep a log of conversations with dates. This can help you to validate if a person you contacted makes a mistake.
- Get a Drivers License reissued with a new number. Most people carry their drivers license in their wallet. If your license is taken, as my wife’s was, ensure you promptly go to the DMV to get a new one. Ensure you request it be issued with a new number not the existing number. Otherwise it is possible the thief could get a ticket or other issue and provide your number to police!
- Request Replacement cards and numbers for any insurance companies.
- Request replacement from any membership cards.
- Monitor your credit report for the next few months. If anything does happen it will likely occur in the first few weeks. Monitor your credit report for signs of issues. Filing a fraud report with the Credit reporting bureaus often provides you with an additional allowance to check your credit report. Ensure you do so. You can otherwise check your credit report for free once a year for each agency via: Annual credit report.com.
- Should you not heed my advice and be carrying your social security card you can request a new copy. Then you should also request that extended fraud alert from the credit reporting companies I mentioned as the number does not change.
So far we shut down all our cards before any fraudulent spend. We continue to diligently monitor for identity theft, but also so far we have been lucky. Have you ever lost or had your wallet stolen?