Near the end of a recent long trip, my wife misplaced her wallet. She carries a traditional small pocket wallet, which contains her driver’s license, a few credit cards, a few customer reward program cards, and a few other personal items.
We spent the better part of three days searching around our home for the wallet and have finally concluded that in fact it’s lost. So now comes the painful part – what do we do now?
Tip #1: You can take preventative action right now to make the loss of a wallet easier. Just clean out your wallet down to the bare minimum, then photocopy or scan both sides of everything in your wallet. This will help you to easily remember everything that was misplaced and easily deal with the consequences of card cancellation and replacement.
The first step is to contact the credit card companies, as well as your bank. If the wallet is potentially in the hands of someone else, you need to make sure that you’re not going to be liable for charges they may run up on your cards. Most likely, you’ll be issued a new card with a new number and the old card will be cancelled, which just means that you’ll have to wait a week or so and things will be back to normal.
You should also get a new driver’s license as soon as possible. You’ll likely need to take in multiple forms of identification to prove who you are, so find out what the rules are in your state before you head off in a rush.
Tip #2: Carry minimal identification in your wallet as a preventative measure. Try to avoid having your Social Security number in there if at all possible, as that will make identity theft much easier if you were to lose it. You’ll probably have a driver’s license in there, but make sure that it doesn’t include your SSN and has only minimal identifying information on it.
Another vital step is to file a police report. Likely, it won’t help you find your wallet, but it does provide a paper trail that you are following up on this. Plus, if your identity is used to make purchases, you can use this police record as a vital tool to help clear your credit record. Be as specific as possible on the report, and keep a copy for yourself.
You should also put a “security alert” on your credit report which tells any companies that access your credit report to verify your identity before issuing any credit. You can do this by calling up any of the three credit bureaus – Experian (1-888-397-3742), Equifax (1-800-525-6285), or TransUnion (1-800-680-7289) – and asking about their procedure for doing this. A security alert issued by one company is picked up by the other two automatically.
Tip #3: Keep your wallet clean. The “Costanza wallet,” overstuffed with receipts and notes and junk, is a personal security concern. Get rid of all of the junk you don’t use regularly – your wallet is not your briefcase.
When buying a new wallet, get a thin one that doesn’t slip easily. I tend to carry my wallet in my front pocket, which requires it to be thin; however, it never slips at all and is hard for pickpockets to access.
The most important thing? Don’t panic. Remain cool and calm. Retrace your steps carefully and see if you can locate it. Then follow the steps above. Panic does nothing more than delay the things you’ll need to do to keep your identity and your money safe.