If you suspect your wallet was stolen, call the cops. Even though the police might not be able to track down your wallet, putting in a report will cover you in other ways. If a thief does try committing identity fraud, you’ll have to prove that you aren’t responsible for the costs. “Someone is going to lose here, and it’s either the credit card company, the bank or you,” says Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com. “If you say you’re a victim, you need to prove it.” That police report could be the proof you need to show you’re telling the truth about false charges.
Any lost credit or debit accounts should be closed as soon as possible. Start with debit, which can be even more devastating than having a credit card stolen. “The money is coming right out of your bank account, whereas credit is a credit card company’s money,” Siciliano says.
Thieves can’t buy with a card once you’ve closed the account, but that doesn’t mean you should be lax about double-checking your spending – a routine you should make habit even if you don’t think you’ve been a victim of fraud. “Closely monitor before and after you lose your wallet,” Siciliano says. Depending on what your bank or credit card offers, you could get an email, text message or app notification alerting you of account activity. If not – or in addition, just to be safe – go through your statements regularly to make sure everything is accurate, he says. Some thieves sell cards based on area code, meaning the credit card company will think charges seem normal and won’t issue a warning, though you’ll recognise the extra costs, Levin says.
Once you close your cards and receive a new account number, update any bills you paid automatically with your old cards. “Make sure you don’t miss payments or get any surcharges,” Siciliano says. Keep a list of your automatic payments and what cards you use for them so you don’t forget, he recommends.
With information about your home address, full name and birth date, a driver’s license can make it easier for a thief to steal your identity. “A driver’s license can be a very important piece of information in the authentication process,” says Adam Levin, chairman and founder of identity protection service IDT911 and author of Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves. Call your nearest department of motor vehicles for a new license, and have them flag your old card for suspicious activity, he adds.
Institutions you already have a relationship with, such as insurance agencies, financial services and even the HR department at work, can take on some of the burden when you’re dealing with identity theft. “This is really the hidden benefit people don’t realise they have,” Levin says. “They’re more than happy to make it easy to contact them if you have a problem.” They can do the work for you or with you, which could be a comfort when you’re overwhelmed with stressful calls.
Being proactive will make the loss less shattering if you do lose your wallet. First of all, take out any cards you don’t use every day, like store cards or medical cards. Leave a backup credit card at home so that if you do need to close your accounts after a theft, you won’t be stuck using cash until your new cards come, Levin says. Now take a copy of all the cards and documents in your wallet and put them in a safe at home, or save them to your computer or cloud, Siciliano says. You’ll have every phone and account number on hand to report missing cards, which will keep you from forgetting to close any. You could also create a spreadsheet with the same information, he says. “It hurts a lot less when you can see the physical copy of those cards and don’t have to remember what you had in your wallet,” Siciliano says.