Money Talks, So Should You

Crisis Button: I lost my wallet! What should I do?

George Chidi
by George Chidi, Dimespring Contributor

There's a chance, if your wallet is lost and not stolen, that someone will turn it in. That chance increases, it seems, if you have baby pictures in it. There's also a chance that the first person who finds your wallet will immediately begin a shopping spree at Home Depot on your dime.

But losing a wallet can feel helpless, so here are steps you should take.

• Make sure your wallet is well and truly gone first. There's nothing worse than making a panicked set of phone calls to the bank and the credit company only to find your wallet underneath the driver's seat of the car 10 minutes later. Check in all the obvious places first — the last place you sat, the last place you ate, the last place you paid for something. We suggest you take no more than half an hour at this — if your wallet is well and truly stolen, a thief is going to go to work immediately to drain your debit card accounts.

READ: Crisis Button: Help! My car was just stolen

• Before you call the bank, check your debit accounts online. The standard advice is to immediately call and cancel your credit and debit cards, and if you’re closer to a phone than a computer, that’s sensible. That said, if you have immediate access to an online bank account, you’ll have two bits of information right after you log in; the last place you used the debit card, and evidence if a thief is using your card.

• Report your debit cards first, then credit cards. Bank debit cards do not carry the anti-theft consumer protection that your credit cards do. You may eat the first $50 in losses from a stolen credit card (many issuers will cover you completely), but a bank has no obligation to refund money coming out of your checking account in a debit card theft. Once money is spent from a debit card, it's gone. A note: we're only talking about reporting cards as lost or stolen. It's not necessary to cancel accounts completely. All that should happen is that your issuer will send new cards with new card numbers in 3 to 10 days. lists phone numbers for all major cards and subscription services, with domestic and international numbers.

READ: 3 smart strategies to improve your credit score

• Call the police and file a report. Your credit card company will want a police report if false charges have posted to your account. You'll also want to have an official record of the day and time of a loss, in case someone uses the information in your wallet to steal your identity.

• Request a fraud alert be placed on your credit reports. Call any of the three credit agencies and tell them you've lost your wallet, that you're at risk of identity theft and to freeze your credit as a precaution. Each agency is obligated to offer you a free credit report and to notify the other two agencies once you've asked for a fraud alert.

Experian: 1-888- 397-3742
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

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• Prepare for the agony of autobill resets. When your credit card and debit account numbers change, all the other accounts that automatically bill against those cards will stop working. Your gym hits your credit card for $30 on the 17th every month? Expect a phone call. Site subscription to the New York Times? World of Warcraft account? For a month or so, random things you forgot to switch over to the new number will break. This isn't all bad, of course. Anyone planning to autobill you for some long-forgotten subscription you no longer want is in for a rude surprise. Losing your wallet has the ancillary benefit of plugging leaks in your bank account. This might be a good time to take a close look at how you spend money.

George Chidi is a journalist and researcher in suburban Atlanta. George has covered crime, politics, technology and business over a 16-year career, most recently with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a growth, crime and general assignment reporter.