Inconvenience aside, a lost wallet means the keys to your life could be in the hands of a crook. Here’s how to get back in control of your identity before someone else does.
Act fast. Be smart. Or you could get screwed.
You’ll probably replace your credit cards and driver’s license quickly, but don’t just go through the motions. You want to fortify your identity like your house: Close the door, and lock it, too.
Your wallet has your whole life in it. Thanks to the Patriot Act, driver’s licenses no longer have your Social Security Number on them, but basically every other piece of information someone would need to steal you identity is in there: Date of birth, address, credit card numbers, plus all sorts of little clues that don’t hurt. It’s common to carry around business cards of close friends and family. Mother’s maiden name? Poof.
Protect your identity from the unpredictable
The internet makes it easier than ever to steal someone’s identity. Some crooks will just go on a shopping spree, but others will use your identity to wire cash, open weird financial accounts, scam unwitting folks on Craigslist—the list goes on. There is just no way to know what they’ll get up to.
Get a police report: You need a real record of the event—maybe not right away, but down the line when something funky happens, you’ll want it in writing. Head to your local precinct and file a police report in person (It’s faster than on the phone). It’s common practice and only takes a few minutes. Remember that this is the police and they work 24 hours a day, so go at an off-time to get better service.
You’ll get a record from the police, but you’ll likely need to call back later to get the actual number that corresponds to your report. To actually get a copy of the report, you’ll have to fill out a simple form, pay a small fee and a copy will be mailed to you or wherever you want within a few weeks.
Notify the credit reporting agencies and keep an eye on your report: When the bad guys get up to no good with your persona, the credit reporting agencies could screw you. Notify them before anything goes wrong that someone may have access to your personal information.
Equifax: P.O. Box 740250, Atlanta, GA 30374- 0241. (888) 766-0008
Experian: PO Box 9532, Allen TX, 75013 (888) 397-3742
Transunion:P.O Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790 (800) 680-7289
Similarly, you should keep an eye on your credit report for a while after your wallet goes missing. If something bad happens, it’s better to take care of when there’s no pressing need to sign a lease. Check out the FTC’s FAQ on getting your credit report for free.
Dealing with your bank cards
Canceling your cards: Call your bank as soon as you realize your wallet is gone. Don’t give anyone a chance to spend your money or screw up your credit. Banks universally reimburse fraudulent transactions, but why go through the trouble when you can nip it when it happens? Many big banks allow you to undo the cancellation within a day if your wallet turns up.
Don’t forget about the retail credit cards you signed up for at checkout to save 20 percent on your purchase.
Get a temporary card: If you are a local customer of your bank, it should be able to issue you a temporary card. You’ll need proper identification: a Passport or your social security card and birth certificate.
Fix your bill pay: You’ve likely linked everything from your electricity bill to your Netflix account to your cards. Grab your last statement and update your payment information for your accounts. Not a bad time to trim the fat either.
Getting a new driver’s license
Basics: If you’ve got your driver’s license number, many states will allow you to order a replacement online. Other states require that you show up in person. There’s a complete listing of the procedures with relevant links at DMV.org.
Insist on filing a police report: Some states require that you get a police report and some don’t. You should file one with the DMV no matter what. If you live out-of-state, send one with registered mail, and verify later that they’ve processed it and that there’s a note on your record.
Yes, calling the DMV is a pain in the ass. Sometimes the main line won’t give you the option to speak to a human being. In that case, go through the government information lines. There is someone there who picks up the phone.
Why so anal? Your driver’s license number doesn’t change. The barcode won’t swipe—or it shouldn’t—after you replace the license. But it’ll likely look identical to the replacement unless you renew. Here’s an unlikely scenario that can actually happen: Someone hands over your ID to the police for a simple administrative summons, the cops call in your DLN, but don’t swipe the code. You could have an outstanding bench warrant you only learn about years later. It’ll be a lot easier to clear up with a police report on file. More than anything else, it’s another strong public record that’ll help clean up any messes.
What else was in your wallet?
Your Social Security Number: For the love of all things holy, don’t carry around your Social Security card, but if you do lose it, you should notify the Social Security Administration immediately. But seriously, don’t carry around your Social Security card. There’s no photo on it, and it’s considered proof of identity by the government.
Health insurance card: You should carry one of these around for emergencies. Getting a new card is very easy, but huge medical providers like Aetna don’t change your membership number. It’s tricky for someone to file claims on your behalf, but in the hands of a pro, it could happen. Health insurance companies have sophisticated online services so you can easily monitor your claims for discrepancies.
Membership cards: The gym, the video store you haven’t gone to since you signed up for Netflix, the library, etc. It’s unlikely anyone would use these, but it’s worth getting replacements or placing a call so that your cards go dead.