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You reach into your pocket or purse, but your wallet isn’t where it belongs. With a sinking feeling, you realize that your wallet is lost, and likely stolen. What do you do now?

Avoid the urge to panic and think of where it may have been taken or lost – but don't search too long before you begin to take action. If your wallet really has been stolen, the thief is probably headed to the nearest ATM to tap your account or going online to rack up charges on your credit cards. Take a deep breath, and then follow these ten steps to limit the damage.

1. Contact All Your Card Issuers – For each bank account you have, contact your bank immediately to let them know of the stolen ATM card. They will issue you a new card and cancel the old account. You must act quickly to be able to limit fraudulent charges and dispute any that occur.

Similarly, contact all of your credit card issuers to cancel the accounts and get new cards issued. Your liability is limited to $50 under the Fair Credit Billing Act, and you will not be liable for any fraudulent charges made after the theft was reported.

2. Make a List of your Wallet's Contents – Now that you have taken the most urgent action, make a list of everything else that was in your wallet. Not only will this help you to identify any other cards you may not have cancelled yet, it will also draw your attention to any sensitive personal information that has been made vulnerable, such as account details, your address, or passwords (which you should never keep in your wallet!). This list will be useful when you begin replacing missing items, such as insurance cards.

3. File a Police Report – Immediately notify the police and file a report. The police may not be able to do much toward retrieving your wallet, but you will need the police report for all of the companies involved in the effort to fix fraudulent charges and restore your credit.

4. Apply a Fraud Alert or Credit Freeze – Depending on your preferred level of protection, you should apply a fraud alert or a credit freeze to your credit file.

A fraud alert notifies any potential creditors that they must take extra steps to verify your identity before issuing any new credit. You can apply a fraud alert to your account by notifying any one of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion).

A credit freeze stops potential creditors from accessing your credit file at all, meaning that no one can open an account in your name – not even you. You must contact each credit bureau to apply the freeze and also to remove it when you want to open a legitimate account. Credit reporting agencies are no longer allowed to charge for credit freezes or unfreezes.

5. Check your Account Statements – Verify that all the charges on your credit card and debit card are accurate. Flag any erroneous charges and report them to your card issuer as soon as you discover them. If you can, go online to see the charges as opposed to waiting for your monthly statement to arrive.

6. Get a New Driver's License – Presumably, your driver's license was in your wallet and you'll need to head to the DMV to get a new one. In addition to getting the new license, ask the DMV to flag your old card for suspicious activity. Try to get a new driver's license number to avoid confusion – and potential legal problems – if a thief gives your old driver's license to the police as their ID.

7. Reset your Automatic Payments – Now that you have new account numbers, you must make sure to update all of your automatic payments to include the new numbers. Otherwise, your automatic payments will be rejected, and you may not realize it until your credit has been damaged and/or the vendor stops doing business with you.

8. Consider Outside Services – Given the increased risk of fraud or identity theft, you may want to consider the use of credit monitoring and/or identity theft services. It can be a tremendous burden to maintain credit vigilance all by yourself, especially with a busy schedule. Let MoneyTips protect your credit and your identity with a free trial.

9. Report your Social Security Number as Stolen – If anything in your wallet contained your Social Security Number (SSN), the fraud risk is greater and long-lasting – making protection services essential. The Social Security Administration cannot give you a new number, so ensure that you stay aware of any unfamiliar inquiries or new accounts that show up on your credit report, in case your SSN is being used by an identity thief.

You should never carry your Social Security card in your wallet, but if it was stolen with your wallet, you can apply for a new card (which will still bear your old number). Also, report the loss to the IRS Identity Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490 to reduce the risk of tax identity theft.

10. Get a New Wallet – You may not be able to replace the favorite photo you carried in your wallet, but you can use this as an opportunity to treat yourself to a new wallet. Before you get the exact same design, or go for an even bigger model, review the list you made of everything you'd accumulated in your old wallet and ask yourself if every item was essential. Simplify your life and minimize the ammunition for identity thieves by keeping less in your new wallet.

You may have lost your wallet, but you can limit other losses by acting quickly and following the above guidelines. Try to make the best of a bad situation, and think of ways to protect your wallet better in the future.

You should regularly check your credit report to prevent identity theft. See your credit report and scores for free within minutes by joining MoneyTips.


Photo ©iStockphoto.com/amesy

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