If it’s never happened to you, it’s still easy to imagine the feeling of panic that would come over you if your wallet or purse was lost or stolen; if it has happened, that feeling is one you know all too well. And while a lost wallet is at best a major inconvenience, in the worst case scenario it can lead to identity theft.
The first thing to do if your wallet is gone is to take a mental inventory of what documents were in the wallet. You probably had a driver’s license, a credit card or two and a debit card, your health insurance card, and a few other
forms of identification. College students and immigrants carry separate documentation provided for their situations, and many consumers carry store-specific rewards, membership, or credit cards. Don’t forget that these other documents can still lead a savvy thief to your identity.
Once you know exactly what you’ve lost, you can start the process of trying to recover it while simultaneously preparing to never find it again. Reach out to businesses in the area to report the wallet missing in the hopes of recovering it, but the real work of securing your identity will begin with alerting the authorities, your credit card companies and bank, and any state issuing agencies about the missing documents.
Steps to take once you’re certain it’s gone:
- File a police report - Even if it’s just lost and you’ve given yourself a little time to try to find it, you will still need a police report in the event that someone finds your wallet and decides to use your documents. Be sure to get the information on how to receive a copy of that report, and get the business card or contact information of the officer who took the report.
- Place alerts on your credit reports - Contact the three reporting agencies to prevent someone from opening a new account in your name. You’ll also want to follow up with routine credit reports to make sure there is no suspicious activity happening with your identity.
- Contact the card issuers of your stolen or lost card(s), and also call your bank and cancel any checks you had in your purse or wallet.
Of course, the best thing you can do is to avoid the potential for identity theft as much as possible. Take a good look at your wallet right now; does it contain your Social Security number on any of your cards? Is there other identifying information, like your birthdate and your address? While some of this information is required, such as your address being listed on your driver’s license, things like your health insurance card, Medicare card, or student ID may also have your SSN listed. You can make a copy of your card to carry in your wallet, blacking out your SSN, and keep the original in a safe place; never carry your actual Social Security card in your wallet. Keep an inventory of your credit cards in a safe place, including the account numbers and the contact phone numbers in case you need to report lost cards. You could even photocopy the cards and write the customer service numbers beside each one, then keep that document well-secured. In the event that you had to cancel your cards quickly, you can retrieve your document and begin making the calls. Most companies will immediately cancel that card and issue you new ones.
For more detailed steps on what actions to take if your wallet—and therefore, your identity—goes missing, take a look at this ITRC Fact Sheet. Remember, the ITRC is here to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to offer support and information in the event of a personal data breach.