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My Wallet Was Stolen – Which Credit Card Should I Cancel First?

Oct. 1, 2014
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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We’ve all been there: You reach into your purse or pocket for your wallet, only to find that it’s missing. After a few minutes of frantically looking around, you come to terms with the harsh reality — it’s been stolen. Gulp.

First, don’t panic. You will be able to straighten this out. But you’re probably wondering which credit card you should cancel first. Take a look at the details below for the answer, and a few other tips to help put this misfortune behind you.

Canceling all your cards as soon as you can is essential

The answer to the question of which credit card you should cancel first when they’ve all gone missing is that there is no answer. Getting in touch with all of your credit card issuers, telling them about the theft, and cancelling the cards as soon as you can is essential.

The very first thing you should do in this situation is report your wallet stolen to the police and file a report. Then, it’s helpful to take a beat and get organized. Make a quick list of every payment credit card that was in your purloined wallet – think carefully, because it’s important that nothing gets missed. Once you’re sure the list is complete, it’s time to start working through it. If you can, log into each of your online accounts to see which (if any) of your cards have been used by the thief.

Then it’s time to start making calls – when you have each issuer on the line, be clear about the following:

  • That your wallet was stolen, and your credit card was in it
  • The date and approximate time the theft occurred
  • Which (if any) pending transactions are fraudulent
  • That you need to cancel your card and order a replacement immediately

Nerd note: This is a good opportunity to point out that keeping a just-in-case credit card stashed in a drawer at home is a smart idea. It’s bad enough to go through the hassle of canceling a bunch of cards, but being stranded without a way to pay for your daily necessities makes the whole experience even worse. Pick a decent rewards card that charges no annual fee, apply, then leave it at home – you never know when it might come in handy. Also, if you’re traveling, keeping copies of your driver’s license, passport and credit cards in your suitcase is also a savvy move. There’s nothing worse than trying to get on an airplane without a photo ID!

» MORE: How to Dispute Fraudulent Credit Card Charges

Know your rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act

Now that all your cards are defunct and you’re waiting on replacements, it’s a good time to discuss which (if any) unauthorized charges you’ll be responsible for paying. Luckily, when it comes to your credit cards (debit is a little different), there’s a federal law that limits your liability for fraudulent charges to a maximum of $50. And in some cases, you won’t end up having to pay anything at all.

According to the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), no matter how much the bandit charges to your credit card, the maximum you’ll owe the issuer is $50. However, if you report the theft of your card before any unauthorized charges are made, you’re not responsible for paying a dime. Also, if fraudulent charges are made to your card and it’s still in your possession (meaning you were the victim of a data hacking or similar crime) you’re also not accountable for any of the illicit purchases made with it.

But even if for some reason an unauthorized charge is made before you report the card stolen, most of the big credit card issuers have $0 fraud liability policies. This means that it’s unlikely you’ll end up paying for any of the scoundrel’s swiping.

Other tips for getting back on your feet

Unfortunately, filing a police report and canceling all your credit cards isn’t the end of the saga if you’ve had your wallet stolen. There are some other important steps you need to take in the weeks and months following the incident:

  • Continue to monitor your credit card accounts online. Sometimes charges take a couple of days to show up, so keep a watch and report any suspicious swipes immediately.
  • Go online to figure out how to replace your driver’s license. Every state treats this matter differently, but it might be as easy as just requesting a new copy.
  • If your health insurance cards were in your wallet, call your insurer to report them stolen and request new ones.
  • If your Social Security card was in your wallet, report the theft to the Social Security Administration immediately. Since this puts you at risk for identity theft, you should also consider freezing your credit.
  • As always, be sure to pull copies of your credit reports at least once per year. Although most wallet thieves are simply in search of cash and credit cards, you never know if one might take the crime a step further. Reviewing your credit reports for accuracy is essential to stopping this misconduct before it gets out of hand. If you see accounts on your reports that you know you didn’t open, contact the credit bureaus immediately.

The bottom line: There’s no one credit card you should cancel first if your wallet gets stolen. Getting in touch with all your issuers as soon as you can is critical, and be sure to follow the Nerds’ tips above to get back on your feet quickly.

Stolen wallet image via Shutterstock