I have never felt quite as helpless as when I lost my wallet in a foreign country. Stranded without cash or identification, I had to take action fast to protect myself and my finances. If you have lost your wallet or personal belongings, here is what you need to know to limit your financial responsibility and secure your accounts.
7 Steps to Take After You Have Lost Your Wallet
1. Retrace Your Steps.
The most important thing to remember if you think you lost your wallet or purse is not to panic. Before you start notifying anyone, retrace your steps from the last place you had it. Give your car and home a thorough cleaning to make sure no one accidently moved it. Checking your online activity or calling places you visited could also help you locate it sooner.
However, if you are absolutely certain your wallet is gone, there are some crucial steps you must take immediately to protect your personal information.
2. Make a List of Everything in Your Wallet.
I like to have a plan of action when I’m under pressure. So when I lost my wallet, I first made a list of everything inside. Since I had just opened it earlier that day, the contents were still fresh in my mind. While I could easily recall the cards I saw regularly, it took some searching to remember each retail and membership card I rarely used.
Once I had everything listed in front of me, I realized how many things needed to be done. My information was compromised, and time was of the essence.
3. Secure Access to Sensitive Information.
It was easy to recognize the vulnerable position that I was in. Therefore, I knew I needed to secure access to my financial and sensitive information. After signing into my online accounts to check each one’s activity, I then reset all my passwords. This was especially important for me since the thief got a hold of my cell phone in addition to my wallet. Changing my passwords added an extra layer of security and greater peace of mind.
Luckily for me, only two accounts had fraudulent charges totaling less than $10. However, I had to act fast to ensure no additional purchases showed up on my next credit card statements.
4. Call Your Banks and Credit Card Companies.
The sooner you report your cards lost or stolen, the less likely you will be held responsible for fraudulent charges. Because I had been able to track the unauthorized charges online, I knew which cards had the highest priority. I notified them within 24 hours, and they flagged all the purchases I did not make. I then called every other bank and financial institution I had accounts with to repeat the process. In my case, all the unauthorized charges were refunded.
In most instances, the customer service representative will put a freeze on your accounts and reissue a new card with a brand new number. However, there are additional requirements depending on what type of account you hold.
If you had debit cards in your lost wallet, you should address these accounts first. When you report them missing within 48 hours, most banks can only hold you accountable for $50 of unauthorized purchases. Unfortunately, your responsibility increases the longer you wait. If you notify your bank within 60 days, this amount goes up to $500. If you wait beyond this point, you could be on the hook for the full amount.
Much like your debit cards, your bank will put a freeze on your checking account so no one can make purchases with your stolen checks. No payments can be authorized without your consent. If you want to take extra precautions, you can also close the compromised account and open a new one. Then you can guarantee no one else has your account number. It may seem excessive, but it is definitely the safest route if your checks fall into the wrong hands.
When you notify your credit card company, there are more steps to handle your account’s security. Although it is tempting to close the account completely, this would be unwise. Closing or cancelling your account could affect your credit report. Instead, notify them that your card was lost or stolen. Then, they will suspend the account number and issue new ones right away.
Credit card companies will usually credit back all charges as soon as you report your card lost or stolen. Then, they will launch an investigation which may require written legal documentation.
5. File a Police Report.
Many people are hesitant to go to the police in such matters because they seem trivial. But, you must remember there is no chance of recovering your lost wallet or stolen property if you never report it missing. It is also an important step in protecting yourself against future identify theft as well. By filing a police report, you create a paper trail that establishes you were the victim of a crime.
Making the report is simple enough. The police officer assigned to your case will take your statement, so be sure to include as many details as possible. You want to give them a description of your lost wallet and its contents. Also, let them know when it was stolen, where it was taken from, and any other relevant information. The more thorough your report, the better your odds.
If there were fraudulent transactions, the officer may ask for the original account and card numbers to help them track it down. Once you finish the report, you can also ask for the case number and a hard copy for your records. These documents and the contact information for the police officer handling the case make it easier to follow up down the line.
6. Replace Your IDs and Other Cards.
After all your financial cards and accounts have been tended to, it is time to replace everything else. This includes every ID, membership card, and reward program you joined. Depending how many you have, it may take several phone calls to get the job done. For me, this meant going to the DMV and paying for a new driver’s license. While it was not difficult, it was an additional errand and expense.
If your insurance cards were also in your wallet, you may consider requesting a new policy number. Although it is not as common as identity theft, medical identity theft can still leave you with expensive medical bills.
7. Take Steps to Protect Yourself in the Future.
Losing my wallet taught me a very valuable lesson about protecting my personal information. Using online banking and cards is convenient, but we must take extra precautions to avoid becoming a victim. Therefore, you should monitor your accounts regularly for any suspicious activities. I also set up alerts for any purchases exceeding a set dollar limit. You can also sign up for credit monitoring services as an additional security measure.
If you are a victim of fraud or identity theft, file a security alert with the credit bureau. They will notify the others and take additional steps to verify your identity. In today’s digital world, you can never be too cautious when it comes to safeguarding your personal information.
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