It can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. You reach for your wallet and it is gone.
While internet scams and computer hacking receive a lot of media attention, a stolen or lost wallet remains a gold mine for identity thieves.
Should this happen, it’s important to act quickly to limit the damage thieves can do to your finances and identity.
Your first steps should be taken before your wallet goes missing.
* Carry only what you need. The less confidential information you have in your wallet, the less work you will have if it disappears.
* Don’t carry passwords, PINs or bank account numbers (unavoidable, however, if you carry checks). Keep them secure at home or in your head. Memorize your debit card and credit card PINs.
* Remove Social Security cards and anything with your Social Security number on it from your wallet. This includes Medicare cards. I suggest that you leave your Medicare card at home unless you are going to see a medical provider.
* Take an inventory of your wallet’s contents. It is easy to photocopy the front and back of your driver’s license and all your cards. Don’t forget library, membership and insurance cards. Make a copy of everything, including a paper check if you carry a pad in your wallet. Add to your inventory the phone numbers you need to report the missing items.
* Update your inventory periodically.
* Keep your inventory in a safe place that you can access quickly. This should be a place you will know to look when you are panicked and stressed. If you are travelling with your passport, carry a copy of that too. My passport was stolen in Paris. Thank goodness I had a photocopy. That copy made it easy to enter the US Consulate to obtain a replacement.
If you wallet does go missing, here is what you should do:
* Call your credit card companies and bank (for debit/ATM cards and checks) and request an account number change. Follow-up each request with a written letter and keep a copy of the letter. You may need these documents if thieves succeed in stealing your identity.
* File a police report in the city where you live and in the place where your wallet was stolen. Get copies of the report.
* Contact the three credit reporting agencies and request that a fraud alert be put on your account. With a fraud alert, companies researching your credit history are supposed to contact you before issuing new credit in your name. Send a follow-up letter to each agency and keep copies.The three credit bureaus and their contact information are:
Equifax: www.Equifax.com, 1-888-766-0008
Experian: www.Experian.com, 1-888-397-3742
Transunion: www.Transunion.com, 1-800-680-7289
* Change your on-line log-ins and passwords.
* Contact your state’s Division of Motor Vehicles and ask that an alert be put on your record. This makes it more difficult for a thief to get a license in your name.
* Scrutinize your credit card bills and bank statements when they arrive so you can quickly report any fraudulent activity.
* Request credit reports. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting bureaus. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you spread out your requests to receive a report from one of the credit agencies over the course of a year rather than all at once. Experts recommend that you obtain your first report two weeks after your wallet is stolen which gives time for thieves to apply for credit but not enough for the credit cards to have been issued. To obtain your credit report, call 1-877-322-8228 or go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
No one wants the headache of a stolen wallet. With preparation and a plan of action you can move quickly to minimize the damage should you ever lose your wallet.