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What Do I Do If I Lose My Wallet?

May 6, 2014
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If you have lost your wallet or believe it may have been stolen, do not waste any time taking steps to protect your identity and credit liability.

Start by retracing your steps: When and where did you last have it? If you’ve checked there—and frantically torn apart your house, office and car in the process—but still come up empty, NerdWallet has compiled a list of 10 things you should know and do.

1. Take out a pen and piece of paper and write a list of everything you had in your wallet.

2. Since the list will likely include credit and debit cards, go online to find the toll-free phone numbers for your financial institutions. Write down the name and number of each card issuer.

3. Within 24 hours, call each bank and card issuer to report your cards lost or stolen. Most will allow you to order a new card right away and cancel your account if necessary. Once you report the loss of an ATM, debit or credit card, federal law says you cannot be held liable for future unauthorized charges or transfers. Also let you bank know if there were any blank checks in your wallet.

4. Report your missing wallet promptly to your local police or sheriff’s department by calling its non-emergency line, which is usually available on its website. Ask for a copy of the report and keep it with your list. It may come in handy later in the event of identity theft.

5. To replace a lost ID, such as a driver’s license, most states require an in-person visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles. You will need to take your birth certificate and Social Security card; military IDs also suffice. Carry your temporary ID or license with you until the new one arrives in the mail.

6. While it is recommended you not carry your Social Security card around every day, if this valuable piece of identification happened to be lost or stolen, report it immediately to the Social Security Administration.

7. If you are overseas and lose your passport, visit the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, as a replacement passport will be necessary to return home. The State Department provides more specific information, including what to do if you lose your passport within the U.S., on its website. Remember that once reported lost or stolen, passports are invalidated. From overseas, reach the State Department’s emergency line by calling +1 202-501-4444. From the U.S. or Canada, the emergency number is 1-888-407-4747.

8. If there was cash in your wallet, well, there’s nothing you can do about that. You’ll have to go into your bank to withdraw cash until your new card arrives in the mail. (You’ll likely need some other form of primary identification; check with your bank.) If traveling abroad and using traveler’s checks, contact the issuer for replacements. The U.S. embassy or consulate office will be able to advise you on other options you may have, such as taking out a loan to travel home. Relatives may also be able to send you money internationally through services such as Western Union, which provides up-to-date foreign currency exchange rates.

9. Most important, learn what steps to take to avoid becoming a victim of credit card fraud by visiting the websites of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You’ll be able to run your credit to look for transactions you did not make, as well as other signs of possible identity theft. The agencies will also allow you to place and remove fraud alerts.

10. With the list you started in step 1 as your main document, start a file that includes your police report and any correspondence from the above agencies, as well as dates of communication.

If in the meantime a good Samaritan returns the lost wallet to you or law enforcement—or you later find it between the sofa cushions—you will be prepared to take on this hassle the next time panic hits.

Lost wallet at airport image via Shutterstock.