Joe Orozco
Black leather wallet

What to Do If Your Wallet is Lost or Stolen

The worst time to think of how you would react in an emergency is during an emergency. Losing your wallet qualifies as one of those emergencies. Don’t wait until you potentially lose yours before figuring out a plan to recover your lost items, because no one makes great decisions under stress.

The Bite of Personal Experience

I have lost my wallet twice in my life, both times in college. The first time I lost my wallet was in a taxi. I, being the not intelligent individual that I was, had my social security card in the wallet. Had the person who found my wallet wanted to, they could have reeked havoc on my personal identity.

Two years later I lost it again. I left it on the counter of a Greyhound station. I realized I was missing the wallet as I was headed for the bus. I turned around to go back and get it, but by then it had been swiped. The incident was painful, because my roommates had just given me their share of the rent in cash. I knew I would not have enough time to deposit the money before leaving town and had been planning on going to a bank when I got to my destination. What burned even more is that I was 99% certain it was the driver who stole it. How I knew this is another story, but suffice to say it was another horrible lesson in what can happen if you’re not careful.

I have never lost it again. If I have it my way, I will never lose it again, but things happen. Here’s what I’m suggesting you do in order to minimize the impact if you ever lose yours.

Leave Out the Unnecessary

Don’t carry anything in your wallet you know you won’t need on a daily basis. Leave the passport card, social security card, and any other government card you don’t need to show on a regular basis at home. Keep your wallet slim.

This also applies to cash. I no longer carry more than twenty or thirty dollars for the odd emergency. I know carrying even that might seem outdated, but I would rather have and not need than need and not have. Also, I am a sucker for kids selling cookies and candy for fundraisers. Girl Scouts have me on their Top 10 target list.

Make Copies

Take the essential items in your wallet such as your ID and credit cards and take a picture of them with your phone. Or, run them through a scanner to keep images of both sides of the items. If you’re blind, write down the credit card numbers, expiration dates, security codes, and customer service numbers in an encrypted file. If you’re blind and know how to read Braille, committing these details to hard copy is also a great idea.

I have the numbers for my banks and credit card providers saved in my phone’s contacts. I’ve memorized all the details for the two credit cards I carry in my wallet. Trust me, making impulsive purchases can be difficult when you’ve got your credit cards committed to memory, but the information will come in handy if I ever need to report the cards as lost or stolen.

If you travel internationally, make a physical copy of your passport. And, don’t smack me for pointing out the obvious, but don’t walk around with both copies in your wallet. I mean, that should be obvious, but you would be surprised…

If you are traveling, whether foreign or domestic, it’s probably a good idea to leave at least one credit card properly concealed where you are staying. This way you are not completely without a card if your wallet is lost.

Report the Incident

These days credit cards generally feature great protection against fraudulent purchases. Nevertheless, you’ll reinforce your case by filing a police report if the wallet is stolen. I wouldn’t count on recovering your wallet, but it will show your credit card company that you were responsible enough to take initiative if they choose to open an investigation.

You’re also going to want to check in with the three credit bureaus. You want to set up a fraud alert to make sure someone doesn’t open a new credit line under your name. The fraud alerts will last a year. Theoretically, alerting one bureau is enough. It should alert the other two, but do your due diligence.

The three bureaus are:

I froze my credit with all three bureaus. This means no one can open a new account under my name. If I want to apply for a credit card, a loan, a lease, or engage in anything else that requires a credit check, I can temporarily lift the freeze until the check has been conducted.

If you lose your social security card, sign up for an account with the SSA to request a replacement. The SSA will not investigate the lost card. Unfortunately you’re going to have to keep tabs on your credit reports to see if anyone abuses your personal information.

What About Mobile Devices?

Some of you may not use wallets anymore. Perhaps you rely on your phone to make purchases. This seems unlikely considering not every point of sale is equipped for this, but there are steps you should already be taking to protect against the unfortunate loss of your device.

Consider these steps:

  • Enable the screen lock with your face, fingerprint, or security code.
  • Enable location tracking.
  • Write down your serial device number.
  • Regularly back up your data.
  • Use additional security for financial apps.

Final Thoughts

Losing your sensitive information is stressful. You never plan on it happening. If it does happen, you don’t want to be caught completely off guard.

If you want to protect yourself against damage, preserve the information on your ID and credit cards. Don’t carry more than is necessary, and make sure you report the incident to the police, your credit card providers and banks, and set up a fraud alert with the credit bureaus. Your mobile devices are equally vulnerable, so make sure you take steps to keep them equally protected against an unfortunate loss.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.

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My blog is a collection of advice I wish someone had shared with me when I was young and targets subjects like personal finance, careers, and relationships. It publishes Mondays with the occasional bonus article. Sign up to have fresh content delivered straight to your inbox, no SPAM!

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