Lost or Stolen Wallet or Purse? Don’t Panic

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Telling Tips is a series of articles from local experts to help you save money, make better decisions and plan for a better future.

It’s summer, and you’re going to be out more, hopefully enjoying America the Beautiful. You may or may not think about it, but what do you do if your wallet or purse is lost or stolen? The first step is ‘think about it.’

What should you do before your wallet is stolen:

  • Only carry what you need. (Don’t be like my wife, who carries her whole world in her purse, and then panics when she can’t locate it.)
  • Make a list of everything in your wallet or purse.
  • Make a photocopy of every credit card, front and back.
  • Never carry your Social Security card.
  • Never carry your passwords or account numbers.
  • Keep a list of contact numbers and information available should your wallet be stolen.
  • Prepare: Discuss this with your family.

Here are several important steps to take if your wallet or purse is stolen:

  • Call your credit card companies immediately. Do not completely cancel your account; instead, ask for an “account number change.” Cancelling cards with an outstanding balance, or cancelling a whole set of cards can have a negative impact on your credit score. Also by cancelling cards, the banks may maximize the interest rate on your outstanding balance. Tell the credit card company that you do not want anything on your credit card report showing “cancelled by consumer.”
  • Change your passwords. Passwords should include letters, numbers, and symbols, and should not be common words such as your mother’s maiden name or the names or birthdates of your spouse, children or pets. If your keys are missing, change your locks as well. Remember, even if these are recovered, they may have been duplicated.
  • File a police report, both in the area in which your wallet disappeared, and also in your hometown. Keep copies of the reports for later use.
  • Contact the three major credit reporting agencies and ask them to put a fraud alert on your account. You can contact them at the following numbers and websites: Experian, 888-397-3742 (www.experian.com); TransUnion, 800-680-7289 (www.transunion.com); Equifax, 800-525-6285 (www.equifax.com). If you have a fraud alert on your account, creditors are required to verify your identity, usually by telephone, before issuing new credit in your name.
  • Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles. Ask that a flag be put on your license file to make it more difficult for a thief to have a new driver’s license issued in your name. (By the way, do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet.)
  • Notify your bank that your wallet is missing. You will need a new ATM or debit card and perhaps even a new checking account. You also call the check verification services so that your checks cannot be used at a merchant’s cash register. The three services are:
  • Check your credit history approximately two weeks after your wallet disappears. You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228 to obtain your free reports. Look under the section labeled “Inquiries” to see if any new credit applications have been made in your name. The two-week time period would be enough time for thieves to apply for credit, but not enough time for cards to be issued. You should recheck your credit report often in the two to three months after the first review.

When reporting the theft:

  1. Keep a record of all conversations – the phone number you called, person you spoke with. Try to speak with supervisors. Make sure you understand what they are saying, or ask for that person’s supervisor.
  2. Request a written verification if accounts have been closed. Make a note of the time and date, as well as a confirmation number.
  3. Send all correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested.
  4. Keep copies of all correspondence.

Have a great summer, but be careful and safe.

Joseph Reisman, of Joseph S. Reisman & Associates, has been serving tax prep and business accounting expertise from his Coney Island Avenue office for more than 25 years. Check out the firm’s website.