It’s the worst feeling.
It’s time to settle up the bill, you reach for your wallet and suddenly realize your pants pocket or purse feels a lot lighter than it did this morning — your wallet is gone! Instantly, you start literally retracing your steps — scanning the floor more closely than you ever intended to. It’s not on the table, it’s not at home and it’s not in the office. You’re ready to call it: your wallet is officially lost.
What do you do now? Well, first off, don’t panic. If you act quickly, you can stave off any fraudulent activity against your financial accounts and prevent identity theft. Here’s how.
It can take minutes for thieves to rack up a huge bill on your debit or credit card, which is why you need to contact your bank and credit card issuer and report your card as lost or stolen right away. Plus, you are not responsible for any transactions made after you report the loss to the bank, so the sooner you do so, the better.
It can be annoying to cancel your cards only to find your wallet later, so some banks offer the ability to temporarily freeze your cards and then reverse the freeze when you find your wallet again. Often, you don’t even have to talk to someone to make this happen. For example, TD, BMO, CIBC, RBC and others allow you to lock or unlock your cards through their banking apps or online banking portals.
» MORE: How to prevent credit card fraud
If you suspect your wallet of being stolen, a police report is a must. You might think this is overkill, but if there’s a file number with the police, you’re able to establish a record and proof of your loss. This makes it easier to recover your wallet if it is found and protects you against further identity theft.
In some cases, fees to replace cards may be waived when you give your file number to the card provider in question. When you do file a police report, make sure you follow the instructions for theft under $5,000 provided by the police in your community, call the non-emergency number and/or file online.
To prevent anyone with nefarious intentions from picking up your wallet and stealing your identity by trying to apply for credit in your name, contact both credit bureaus — TransUnion and Equifax — and put a Potential Fraud Alert on your credit file. This will inform creditors that you may be a victim of fraud and get them to contact you if someone tries to take credit out in your name.
You may have to pay a small fee though. Placing a fraud alert with TransUnion costs $5 for your credit file and an additional $1 to include your social insurance number (SIN). The fraud alert will stay on your file for up to six years, but you can apply to remove it through a written request and by providing copies of primary identifying documents, such as a birth certificate and passport.
Once your finances and identity are taken care of, you have to go through the bothersome process of restoring everything else in your wallet. Thankfully, your local provincial service office, such as Service Ontario or Service BC, is your one-stop shop for replacing your driver’s licence, health card, ID card (if you don’t drive) or even your birth certificate.
That said, it is best not to keep original documents like a birth certificate in your wallet, as you may need these as proof of identity as you get cards back.
Once you receive your new replacement cards, make copies of both sides of each one and keep them in a lockbox. This means you’ll still have access to them if your wallet is ever stolen again and you’ll have records of all the account numbers, so you know what you need to recover.
You might think it’s gauche, but wearing a fanny pack or a wallet chain ensures you’ll never lose your wallet. Whether travelling in a foreign country or walking the streets at home, your wallet remains safely on your body, making it very difficult to steal and unable to fall from your pocket.
Companies like Chipolo and its various competitors offer a high-tech way to track your wallet if it’s ever stolen or lost. You stick a disc-sized tracker on your wallet and another at the end of your keys, and then an accompanying app will send you text alerts as soon as your wallet goes astray, and lets you track it to its current location. You can buy one Chipolo pack for $25, a four-pack for $75 and $105 for a six-pack for the basic edition. The app is free.
Limit your wallet to one piece of ID (like a driver’s licence), your debit card and one credit card. Keep everything else secure at home and never carry primary identification documents, such as your passport, birth certificate or SIN card. These documents are not only more difficult to replace, but can also be used to verify your identity, so you don’t want them falling into the wrong hands.
Aaron Broverman has been a personal finance journalist for over a decade. His work has appeared on such outlets as Yahoo Finance Canada, Bankrate and Creditcards.com, Money Under 30, Wealth Rocket, CBC.ca and Greedyrates.ca. This former Toronto transplant via Vancouver now lives in Waterloo with his wife and son.