It was a cloudless, warm September night in Corona, Queens. Paul Simon was performing the final show of his last-ever tour about 20 minutes from where he grew up. “Late in the Evening” was playing, and when we finished dancing, I was thirsty. It was time, we decided, for a beer.
That’s when it happened, I realized later.
After I drained the beer, I reached in my purse for my wallet and came up with a handful of air. I lost my wallet and my cash, license and credit cards were lost along with it. But what was worse was that I was also carrying my elderly father’s Medicare, Social Security and bank debit cards. And although these items were clearly mission critical for a Paul Simon concert (well, maybe not), losing them brought my stress level to an entirely new plane.
It’s cold comfort to realize that I wasn’t alone.
Most people have had their wallets stolen or lost them, according to a 2019 MoneyTips survey, which revealed that 62% of respondents suffered a similar fate. What’s worse is that a third of these poor souls have both lost and had their wallets stolen. And a robust 36% of survey-takers admitted to losing their wallets on multiple occasions.
Based on these stats, it makes sense to have a go-to plan in case your wallet goes missing. The good news is that documents and credit cards can be replaced. The bad news is that you’ll need to watch your accounts closely for evidence of fraudulent purchases and identity theft.
Here’s how to get started.
7 Things to do when you lose your wallet
The very first thing you should do is verify that your wallet is actually lost for good instead of misplaced. It will take a few days for you to replace your wallet’s contents, which means you won’t have access to your debit card, credit cards, driver’s license and other documents. Finding your wallet intact after you’ve already reported your credit cards lost or stolen is annoying, so give yourself time to call stores, restaurants or friends that you’ve recently visited. On the off chance you simply forgot it, you’ll be glad you took a few minutes to look.
For this exercise, let’s assume your wallet really is living an exciting new lifestyle with someone else. If that’s the case, you should immediately:
Take inventory of your wallet’s contents from memory
Aside from your license and bank cards, you may also have lost insurance information, car registration, your Social Security card, gift cards, health documents or cash. Don’t forget to write down other items you might have lost, such as business cards or a list of passwords. They may not have direct monetary value but replacing them will be meaningful.
Report your credit and debit cards lost or stolen, and request replacements
Look at your account activity online right away to find charges you didn’t make, because fraudsters often try to spend quickly knowing that you’ll report your cards lost or stolen. Pro tip: Keep in mind that automated bill payments that use these account numbers will be affected, so you’ll need to edit those payment methods once your new cards arrive.
Request a fraud alert and credit freeze with all 3 credit bureaus
This helps prevent identity theft because the fraudster won’t be able to apply for new loans or credit cards using your name. This service is now free for all consumers, so it’s wise to take advantage of this anyway. Here’s how it works: Request a freeze at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The next time you or someone else applies for a loan in your name, the creditor will require extra steps to verify the applicant is you. If it’s a fraudulent application, it will be denied and reported.
Report your wallet lost or stolen with your local police department
You might be tempted to skip this step since you’ve already requested replacements and you’re unsure if the person responsible will be caught, but don’t. In the event you become a victim of identity theft, this record will support your case. And you’ll need it if you’ve lost all of your identification.
Replace your license and other important documents
This process varies depending on where you live. Start with your DMV, as you’ll need a temporary license and it can take weeks to get a new hard copy. Remember that the DMV requires at least one form of ID, but if you don’t have it, bring your police report. Check your state’s DMV website to learn the specific requirements when replacing a lost or stolen license.
Don’t forget to monitor your card accounts over time
I reported my cards as stolen immediately, but didn’t remember that my father’s cards were also in my wallet until a few days later. When I didn’t see any fraudulent activity on my accounts, I assumed I simply lost my wallet and forgot about it. But about a month afterward, when I was helping my dad with his banking, we noticed a series of small charges that he didn’t make. Monitor all of your missing cards over time and don’t assume that if you don’t see anything right away that you’re ok.
Check your credit history from all three bureaus for free
At AnnualCreditReport.com, you can review reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Read them carefully and look for new accounts and addresses you don’t recognize. Fraudsters are adept at opening new accounts with a bare minimum of information.
If you discover evidence of identity theft, report it immediately
At the Federal Trade Commission’s website IdentityTheft.gov, you can report your evidence by completing an online form or calling (877) 438-4338. The FTC can provide further assistance by helping you create a recovery plan.
Tips to make wallet loss easier
If you’re someone who for whatever reason is prone to losing their wallet, planning ahead in case it happens again is wise. Best practices that help make wallet losses easier to manage include:
Don’t carry infrequently used documents with you
That includes your Social Security card, health insurance information and your checkbook. Don’t carry your passport unless you absolutely, positively need it. Also consider leaving gift cards at home, since they work just like cash and can’t be replaced.
Keep a list of account numbers and phone numbers safe at home
You can still report your card lost or stolen without them, but it’s faster and easier when you have your account information handy. Award yourself bonus points for memorizing your credit or debit card number.
Only carry the cards you need
If you have credit cards you never use, consider leaving them at home. It’s at least one less phone call to make, and you’ll have access to a form of payment in the event an emergency arises.
Limit the amount of cash you carry
Unlike bank cards and other documents, once cash is gone, it’s gone. Only keep in your wallet what you can stand to lose.
One last thought
Now that you know to report your cards and documents right away, watch for signs of identity theft, sign up for credit freezes and employ best practices to make future losses easier to manage, here’s one final tip.
You may find yourself lucky enough to lose your wallet near someone who’s honest enough to return it. In fact, the results of a three-year study reported in Science magazine found that people who discovered a wallet filled with “a lot of cash” were more likely to return it to its rightful owner. And while carrying a large amount of cash is never recommended, keeping contact information inside your wallet is a good idea.
You know, just in case you cross paths with a good samaritan the next time you’re in Corona, Queens.