21 - 2007

Give yourself credit: What to do when you lose your wallet

On Tuesday night, I was steaming away in our poorly ventilated kitchen, making raspberry syrup (verdict: not worth it), when the phone rang. It was Mr. Cheap, calling to share his misery: His wallet is lost.

I finished the canning just as he came in from his night class. He double-checked everywhere, but no wallet turned up.

We took action immediately:

  1. Fortunately, he had only two credit cards in his wallet. One was a Chase card, and I spoke to somebody overseas who confirmed our last charge, canceled the existing number and assured us new cards with new numbers would be in the mail the next day. (Unfortunately, this is the card with several automatic monthly withdrawals, so we’ll need to call and update the numbers for those transactions.) Meanwhile, Mr. Cheap called our debit card company to cancel his card (and confirm that my card would still work).
  2. He hopped online to place a fraud alert on his credit report. When you place the alert with any one of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion), they report it to the others. They also provided a free copy of Mr. Cheap’s credit report for our files. The fraud alert means you’ll have to jump through additional hoops to prove who you are when you want to get credit. This means the bad guys will have to do this, too — and there’s a good chance it will scare them off.
  3. After a mere four-hour wait at the DMV, he replaced his driver’s license with a new one.
  4. He notified AAA and the health insurance company of the loss in case anyone tries to reap our benefits.
  5. He also has to replace his student ID and his library card, his Costco card and a few other little things. Luckily, we have valid passports, which simplifies the issue of a photo ID.

Other recommended steps when you lose a wallet:

  1. Act fast. The longer you wait, the higher your liability for losses.
  2. Report the loss to the Social Security Administration’s fraud line because, unfortunately, we think he had his Social Security card in his wallet. Word to the wise: Take your Social Security card out of your wallet! Is it still in there from when you had to update your W-4 at work? Come on. Check right now. Take it out. This is the scariest part, because along with photo ID, it gives a thief potential access to our whole lives.
  3. File a police report. This makes it official. We don’t know his wallet was stolen, but it’s gone and no one has called us or turned it in.
  4. We’ll have to keep a close eye on our financial statements to make sure they’re in order for a few months. Then again, I already do this.
  5. Especially if you carry checks, notify your bank or credit union that your wallet is missing.
  6. Don’t forget to close small accounts — like gas cards, Home Depot, Target and other store credit cards you carry.

When you re-stock your wallet:

  1. Make a list of what you carry there to be sure you don’t miss anything.
  2. Have an emergency stash of cash at home in case you can’t access accounts for a few days. Sometimes, closing accounts can result in total shutdown (think automatic deposits and automatic deductions) until you get things straightened out, and meanwhile you’ve got to eat.
  3. Make a photocopy of your ID and other contents just in case.

And don’t panic. Things will probably be fine. Maybe it’ll turn up — or if not, you’ll finally be able to sleep, knowing you took care of your poor wallet, if only posthumously.

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