I was at a business conference the last time I lost my wallet.
I’ll never forget the panic that set in. Your first thought is to find it. You look everywhere. Then you start backtracking. Did you leave it at the restaurant? In your hotel room? In your car?
Once the reality starts to set in, though, you do a quick inventory of all that you might have lost. In my case, it was:
- Driver’s license
- One credit card
- One debit card
- Two medical insurance cards
- A couple of restaurant loyalty cards
- A little cash
After a bout of panic, I found my wallet. It was in the pocket of my cardigan. Which was literally the last place I looked. Don’t be me!
Here are some steps to take once you discover your wallet isn’t where it should be.
1. Make Sure It’s Lost
Your wallet isn’t where it’s supposed to be. You check the obvious places–your pocket or handbag, your car console, or maybe your desk drawer.
Once you’ve exhausted those places, it’s time to stop and think.
Most importantly, though, don’t panic.
Losing your wallet is certainly an inconvenience, but it’s not the end of the world. Chances are, it’ll turn up, but even if it doesn’t, every item in it is replaceable.
If you can’t find your wallet, quick action is important. There are some things you can do right away that may boost the chances you’ll find it.
Can You Trace It?
After my own near-miss, I bought one of those tracker tags. It slides right into my wallet and connects to my phone. If my phone strays too far from my wallet, a notification pops up letting me know I left my wallet behind.
Do you have a tag like that? Are you sure? If you’ve lost your entire purse or briefcase with your wallet in it, you might have put a tracker inside that. This should be your first check.
Pause Your Spending Cards
If you’re going to lose your wallet, it’s better to lose it in an era when technology makes it easier.
This starts with your banking apps.
If your credit and debit cards are connected to an app, go there first. Some banks, like Chase and Bank of America, have a built-in feature that lets you temporarily lock your card. You simply tap on the screen and any new charges will be denied.
If you have autopayments set up on that card, don’t worry. Your bank should still let those through. But if someone decides to take your card on a spending spree, that person will be stopped at the first point-of-sale system that processes the card.
The best thing about card lock is that you can simply unlock the card if you recover your card. It’s a great feature to activate while you’re on the hunt for your wallet.
Retrace Your Steps
Chances are, you can remember the last place you used your card. Was it when you bought coffee that morning? At dinner the night before? At the gas station on your way home from work?
But first, make sure it’s not with you somewhere. You might have slipped it into a coat pocket that’s now hanging in your closet, or perhaps it’s in a pair of jeans you tossed into the hamper. Check any seat cushions to make sure they didn’t slip inside, and search your car, if applicable, to make sure it’s not on the floorboard or between the door and the driver’s seat.
Once you’ve done that, start making phone calls. If you discover your wallet is missing not long after you leave a retailer or restaurant, head there first. You might find your wallet is still in the dressing room or on the table where you left it.
If it’s been a while, pick up the phone and call the location where you last used the card. Ask to speak to a manager, if possible, and explain the situation. With any luck, someone has turned it in. If not, leave your name and phone number and ask that they contact you if it shows up.
Don’t give up there, though. Follow up in a few days and remind them you’re still looking. As employees get busy, it can be easy for something like a found wallet to slip through the cracks.
2. Contact Your Bank
Credit: Andrea Piacquadio
Your card is officially lost.
You’ve searched all the likely places, and it’s simply nowhere to be found.
Now it’s time to protect yourself. If someone has your wallet in hand right now, what damage can that person do?
Chances are, all roads lead back to your bank account.
Contact your bank and let them know the situation. There should be a way to get in touch with someone, even if it’s after hours. If there’s no toll-free number, check your bank website to see if there’s a chat option. There should be some way to report fraudulent activity when your branch is closed.
Freeze Your Checking Account
It’s important to cut off access to your checking account from any debit or ATM card that might have been in that wallet. Let the bank representative know that you lost your wallet and it could be in someone else’s hands. This will stop any charges from coming through.
If your wallet had checks inside, you’ll also need to alert your bank of this. Your checks have your bank account number, which won’t change even if you cancel your credit and debit cards. In some cases, your bank might have you close your account and open a new one. At the very least, you’ll want to change your online banking passwords and monitor your account for a while.
Cancel All Debit and Credit Cards
While you have the representative on the line, you’ll also need to cancel any bank-issued debit or credit cards that were in the wallet. Yes, this is painful. It’s my least favorite part of losing a wallet.
Your primary bank isn’t the only way to get a credit card, though. Contact each credit card issuer as soon as possible and cancel those cards, as well. Alert them to the situation, just as you did your bank, so they know that any new charges coming through are likely fraudulent.
It’s important to report your card(s) missing as quickly as possible. With debit cards, as long as you report the loss within two business days, you won’t be liable for any funds that are used from your account. However, after that time, you could be on the hook for $50, increasing to $500 if you wait 60 days.
With credit cards, though, your liability is typically waived. Credit card issuers have the right to charge up to $50 if your card is used fraudulently, but you likely won’t be charged anything if you take swift action.
Request New Debit and Credit Cards
As you’re canceling your cards, you’ll likely be asked if you want a replacement. For the card you use for everyday purchases, ask for the process to be expedited. Explain that you rely on this card for daily life.
Prepare to Be Cardless
Even an expedited card will take at least one or two business days. In some cases, you may be waiting a week or longer. In the meantime, you’ll need to be able to make purchases.
Ideally, you’ll have a backup card that wasn’t in the lost wallet. Check your desk drawer or old wallets and make sure you don’t have an unexpired card you might have forgotten. This might get you through until you receive your replacement.
What if you don’t have a backup? That’s where your bank can help. You should be able to visit your bank and withdraw cash. You might need to provide identification to prove you’re the owner of your bank account, which may mean you need to prioritize replacing your driver’s license.
Another option for quick cash is to have a friend send you some money using a peer-to-peer payment service like Zelle or Venmo. This will let you purchase things using your phone until you have new payment cards.
Be also aware of scams on peer-to-peer payment services:
3. Call All Card Issuers
Chances are, some or all of your credit cards weren’t with your bank. You’ll need to contact each card issuer and let them know your card may be compromised.
How do you contact them, you may ask? After all, normally you’d look at the back of your credit card for the phone number. Since you don’t have the card, you’ll have to go online to get the answer.
Chances are, you log into a website to manage your account, though, so go there first. You may even be able to report the card lost or stolen there. At the very least, you’ll find a way to get in touch with customer service.
If the website isn’t an option, there are other ways to track down contact information. Your credit card statement likely has the customer service number, but if you know the name of the card issuer, you should be able to find it in a web search.
Here are some links to report a lost card to the top credit card issuers:
Request New Debit and Credit Cards
As with your bank, you’ll want to make sure a replacement card is on the way. If you rely on a card, see if you can expedite the process.
While you’re waiting for the new card to arrive, you’ll need to do some damage control. Take a look at your statement and make a list of all the recurring charges that come through each month on that card. You’ll then need to redirect any charges likely to come through before your new card arrives to make sure you aren’t late on a payment.
Once the new card arrives, the real work begins. If you’ve already made a list, you’ll have a good start.
You’ll need to go to each merchant and update your payment information. You can start with the charges that are likely to come through first, but you might also want to make sure you get important bills like your rent and utilities updated.
Don’t forget any wallet apps you use. Services like Venmo and PayPal might link to your credit card. If it falls through the cracks, you’ll have to stop to add it the next time you need to make a payment.
4. Call Your Health Insurers
I keep all my healthcare-related cards in my wallet, so when I thought I’d lost it, that was one more thing I’d have to replace.
For me, that’s both a medical and dental insurance card. My medical card can be used to fill prescriptions, but if you have a separate card for that, you’ll need to replace it, too. Same with any vision care or pet insurance cards you carry with you.
If you have a health savings account or a flexible spending account, don’t forget about those cards. Although they can only be used for medical expenses, you’d be surprised how quickly someone can rack up a bill at a drugstore.
Your HR department is your first stop for all these lost cards. If you have plans outside of an employer, you’ll need to reach out to each individual provider to replace your medical cards and cancel and reissue any spending cards.
5. Replace Your ID Cards
In some cases, you’ll need to replace your ID cards first. If it takes more than a few hours to do all the above steps, it’s a definite. You’ll need a driver’s license to operate a motor vehicle, and you might not be able to get past the security desk at work without a badge.
The only reason to cancel all your cards first is to reduce your liability. You need to stop someone from being able to empty your bank account or rack up a bunch of debt using your lost cards.
As soon as possible, though, you’ll need to make sure you’ve replaced all the cards that serve as proof of who you are. Here are the most common:
Replacing a driver’s license is easier than ever. In most cases, you should be able to request a replacement online. At worst, you’ll have to visit the DMV. If you do, see if you can make an appointment to ensure you aren’t waiting around all day.
Work Badges or School ID
If you rely on a photo ID to get into your office building or to walk around campus, those IDs will probably have to be replaced your first day back. The biggest challenge will be getting into the building so that you can have the ID remade, especially if your building or campus has strict security.
Social Security Card
Hopefully, you don’t carry your Social Security card with you. The Social Security Administration recommends keeping it at home in a safe place. But if you keep it in your wallet, you’ll need to pay particular attention to the fraud measures listed below. A fraudster doesn’t need your card to pose as you, but having that number puts you at risk for identity theft.
Aside from possibly having your Social Security number compromised, though, chances are, you won’t need to replace your card right away. As long as you know the number, you should be fine. Occasionally, though, you might need to show the card.
Voter ID Card
You probably don’t vote every day, but it can take time to get your voter identification card. You likely won’t need your card to vote. In most cases, you can simply appear with a driver’s license and get through just fine.
However, that card can come in handy for keeping up with your current polling place. To get a replacement card, go to Vote.gov, check your registration status, and follow the instructions for your area.
6. Replace Other Items
After you’ve replaced the urgent items in your wallet, there are some other things to consider. Some of these may be items you use every day, at which point you’ll need to bump them up to the top of the priority list. But there are some others you might not realize are gone until you need to use them.
Credit: Samson Katt
Keys take different forms, and today that often means a card you can slip into your wallet. If you use a keycard to get into the door at work or to pass through a security gate at home, you probably will have to replace those on Day One.
But there may be security cards you use less often. Consider any keycards you might use at your gym, recreational facilities, and relatives’ and friends’ houses and replace those cards as you get time.
Loyalty and Rewards Cards
Loyalty and rewards cards have become increasingly popular in recent years. Whether it’s your favorite fast food restaurant, a bookstore, or that grocery store you visit every week, you’ll likely reach for it on your next visit, only to remember it’s gone.
Remember, if someone grabbed your wallet, that person now has those loyalty cards and might decide to use your points. For that reason, it might be worth it to sign up for a new card rather than ask for a replacement under the same membership number.
Gym Membership Cards
I have a bad habit of signing up for a gym membership with all the best intentions, only to fall off over time. That means I’ll inevitably have a forgotten gym card in my wallet. Whoever picked up my wallet could access that gym as me.
Pay a visit to your gym and let them know you lost your ID. That earlier ID can be flagged so nobody else can use it. You’ll get a new ID that will give you access from that point forward.
If, like me, you aren’t using the membership anymore, it might be a good time to cancel it.
I have a library card, but I only use it to check out books in the Libby app. For that, I entered the number once, and that works until the card expires.
But when I thought my wallet was lost, that meant my card would be in someone else’s hands. It was possible that person would use my card to access library resources. That means it needs to be canceled, too.
If you use your physical library card, you’ll, of course, have to get a replacement card. You may be able to do this online, but my library requires I visit in person and show both my ID and proof of address.
7. File a Police Report
A police report makes sense if your wallet is stolen. It was theft, plain and simple.
But even if your wallet wasn’t stolen, a police report makes sense. Simply by having a report on file with the local police, your contact information will be available if your wallet is turned in.
But there’s another reason for filing a police report:
If you later become a victim of identity fraud, you’ll have a date-stamped record of your personal information being compromised.
You may hesitate to file a report because you don’t want to turn it into a big deal, but you don’t need to dial 9-1-1 to make a record of an incident. Police don’t even have to come to your location.
Contact your local police station and explain the situation. Chances are, you can file the report by phone or by visiting a local police station. This typically isn’t something you can do online because the detective will need to ask you some questions.
✎ Related: How To Report Identity Theft: A Step-By-Step Guide ➔
8. Freeze Your Credit
As the name implies, a credit freeze stops anyone from using your credit. It’s an important move if your information has potentially fallen into the wrong hands. It means nobody can be approved for credit under your account until you unfreeze it.
That includes you. If you try to apply for a loan, you’ll have to unfreeze your credit first.
Fortunately, the process only takes a few minutes and can be done entirely online. Unfreezing it is similarly easy, which is why some experts recommend freezing your credit and leaving it frozen until you need it.
How do you freeze your credit? Each bureau has its own process, and you’ll have to do all three:
Visit Equifax’s credit freeze page and select Get Started with a Freeze. You’ll create an account. Later, when you’re ready to unfreeze, you’ll go back to the credit freeze page and select Manage a Freeze.
Create an account on Experian’s credit freeze page, then freeze your account. Once you have an account, you can unfreeze your credit, or “schedule a thaw,” as Experian calls it, at any time.
As with the other two bureaus, you’ll set up an account with TransUnion to both freeze and unfreeze your credit.
9. Set Up Fraud Alerts
Now that you have an account with each credit bureau, you’ll be able to set up alerts. This ensures you’ll be notified when something about your credit changes. Since your wallet was lost, this is a great way to get peace of mind.
There are some other measures you can take to stay on top of any fraud, including monitoring your accounts and protecting your wallet and identity in the future.
10. Monitor Accounts
Your driver’s license and IDs have your contact information. Your medical cards have identifying data like your employer. Even if you canceled everything early, there’s no guarantee your information won’t be used for fraud.
In the months to follow, make sure you’re monitoring all your accounts for unusual activity. Fraud can happen years from the date your information was compromised.
This could be a good time to invest in identity theft protection. Aura uses artificial intelligence to monitor for signs of suspicious activity, alerting you when it catches signs of fraudulent activity.
11. Protect Against Future Loss
You have a new wallet, stocked with all your cards and cash. Everything’s back to normal. Now is the perfect time to put protections in place to reduce the chances it’ll happen again. At the very least, you’ll be able to rebound quicker.
Here are some steps to take before leaving home with your wallet.
Keep a List
One of the most frustrating things about losing your wallet is that you have to try to remember what was in it. Once you’ve done that, you need to track down the contact information for each item.
Now that you have everything, sit down and make a list. Grab the contact information from the back of each card, as well as account numbers. Make sure you store this list in a safe place that you can easily access if you ever need it.
Set Some Rules
Anyone can lose a wallet. In a time when we all rush, rush, rush, it’s actually surprising we don’t lose it more often.
That’s why it’s important to set rules and never, ever break them. Not even if you’re running late for the airport and you’re sure you’ll miss your flight. It takes only a few extra seconds to complete some actions that will keep your valuables safe.
The biggest rule to set relates to where you keep your wallet. Where did you look for it first when you lost it? That’s likely its new home. Whether it’s your purse, laptop bag, or the console of your vehicle, never allow yourself to keep it anywhere else.
Also, make it a practice to stop and take inventory before you leave a location. Do you have your keys, wallet, and smartphone? If you use a card from your wallet, also visually locate the card in the wallet before you leave a shop or restaurant.
It might take a little practice, but over time, it will become habit.
Stock Your Wallet Consciously
Take a look at the cards in your wallet and ask whether you need every item.
If you have more than one credit and/or debit card, leave at least one in a secure location at home. You can even store it with your list. This can become your backup card so you’ll never be stranded without a way to pay.
Remove items like Social Security cards and IDs you rarely use. This will help protect your identity.
But do put a name and contact phone number somewhere in the wallet. If you ever lose it again, whoever finds it will have an easy way to get in touch.
Make Things Easier
My husband keeps his main credit card and driver’s license in his phone. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that’s all he needs. There are plenty of smartphone cases that offer that convenience.
What does this do? It gives you one thing to track. If you’re like me, you never leave a place without your phone, and you’re probably more likely to notice your phone is gone before your wallet.
Another benefit of a credit card phone case is that it encourages you to only carry the items you absolutely need.
Use a Tracker
I mentioned my tracker. It’s already saved me once. I was ready to drive all the way back to the UPS Store to ask if I left my wallet when I pulled up the Find My app on my phone. The tracker was with me, the app said. Sure enough, it was in my coat pocket.
Losing your wallet can be stressful, but it’s manageable. Simply take it one step at a time, and life will be back to normal before you know it.
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