You’ve lost your wallet, and you are worried. Any cash inside the wallet is probably the least of your concerns. Inside that wallet is your driver’s license, your debit card, your credit cards, a health insurance card and maybe gift or loyalty cards. You have every reason to be worried and frustrated. But try to stay calm. Instead of panicking, follow these steps:
1. Try to find the wallet.
2. Contact your debit and credit card issuers and get new ones.
3. Freeze your credit.
4. Contact the police.
5. Contact the department of motor vehicles.
6. Contact your health insurance company.
7. Consider paying for a credit monitoring service.
8. Don’t panic.
Here’s a breakdown of what to do if you lose your wallet, answers to some frequently asked questions and tips to prevent you from losing your wallet again.
1. Try to Find the Wallet
Give yourself ample time to look for your wallet. This is assuming your wallet has been lost and not stolen.
Ask yourself, “Where did I last see my wallet?” If you don’t know, retrace all of your steps from the last time you remember seeing it. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle if you do find it.
“The logical knee-jerk reaction here is to put an immediate stop to any possibility of money being liberated from your accounts as soon as possible. People who start here are not wrong, necessarily, but I have heard stories of people canceling every card in their wallet only to find it in their other pants’ pocket the next day,” says Ryan Cicchelli, founder of Generations Insurance & Financial Services in Cadillac, Michigan.
“Time is of the essence, but taking a few minutes to think and search could save you a lot of headaches. Not too many minutes, though. The longer you wait to report missing or stolen cards could leave you liable for more if your cards are used fraudulently,” Cicchelli says.
2. Contact Your Debit and Credit Card Issuers and Get New Ones
At this point you’re certain your wallet is lost. Now is the time to cancel your credit and debit cards and request new ones.
Relay the details to your bank’s or credit card’s customer service representative of how you lost your wallet or how it was stolen, rather than just telling them you need a new card. Hopefully that will put your bank or credit card issuer on guard in case a thief later uses any of your identification to try and withdraw money from your account.
3. Freeze Your Credit
With a freeze on your credit, lenders are unable to view your credit history or pull your credit report.
Of course, you’re thinking, “I’m not worried about lenders viewing my credit history. I’m worried about a con artist taking out a loan in my name.”
Right. Which they can’t do if new lenders can’t view your credit.
Your credit isn’t entirely frozen. Banks and lenders you already work with can still view your credit.
But this is a fix that you’ll want to put in place for a while, if not indefinitely, to prevent an identity thief from buying a new car in your name or taking out credit cards in your name.
4. Contact the Police
If your wallet has been stolen, contacting the police is an immediate must-do. And you can feel good that you’re hardly the first person to have a wallet or purse stolen. According to the most recent FBI statistics available, in 2019, there were an estimated 5,086,096 larceny thefts nationwide. That includes stolen purses, wallets, bicycles and any sort of property.
You should call the police even if the wallet has been lost, says Al White, who was a police officer in Raleigh, North Carolina, for years and is now the chief of police at Meredith College in the same city.
“If someone happens to find your wallet, a filed police report will have your contact information so the items can be returned to you,” White says. Credit bureaus like Experian recommend that as well.
A criminal could be the one who finds your wallet, which is another reason to contact the police. If a thief is successful at taking out a loan in your name, and a lender, for whatever reason, doesn’t believe that you were a victim of identity theft, that police report will be a helpful piece of evidence that you’re telling the truth — and that you aren’t the one who took out the loan.
5. Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles
Assuming you have a car, you’ll need to ask the DMV to replace your driver’s license. It’s best to get on this and do it as soon as possible.
6. Contact Your Health Insurance Company
You’ll need to replace your medical insurance card, and you should mention to the customer service representative what has happened.
“You want it on record that your medical card was lost or stolen in case someone tries to use your identity at a doctor or dentist office,” White says.
It does seems unlikely that a thief would, say, go to the dentist and then try to get your insurer to pay for the visit, but situations like that can happen.
7. Consider Paying for a Credit Monitoring Service
If you want that extra peace of mind, you might want to pay for a service to alert you to any possible instances of identity theft. Plans for credit monitoring services often cost between $15 and $35 a month.
That said, if you feel as if you can’t afford to pay for a credit monitoring service, credit cards and banks are generally excellent about alerting consumers to suspicious behavior.
Additionally, you can monitor your credit effectively on your own for free. You can go to AnnualCreditReport.com, a site run by the three main credit bureaus, and request a free weekly credit report. You can get one free credit report from each bureau once a year, and so many experts suggest that every four months, you get a new credit report from a bureau, and that way, you’re always in the habit of periodically checking your credit reports — and getting them for free.
8. Don’t Panic
By now you’ve done just about everything you can do, and if your credit cards have been used or your bank account raided, you probably won’t be out much, if anything. Federal law limits a credit card holder’s liability if cards are stolen to $50 as long as you report the theft within 60 days. Some large credit card issuers offer $0 liability. Even banks and debit cards will generally limit your losses for unauthorized charges — and if you contact your bank before any charges occur, you won’t be held liable if somehow the thief is still able to make charges.
Meanwhile, if you’ve lost your wallet and it included valuables, keep in mind that it may yet turn up.
In 2019, the journal Science published the results of a three-year study in which researchers throughout the world “lost” wallets and found that they were often returned, especially if there was money in them.
David Tannenbaum, an assistant professor in the department of management at the David Eccles School of Business in Salt Lake City, participated in that study and says, “One clear pattern that emerged was, remarkably, wallets with greater amounts of money were more likely to be returned to the owner.”
Frequently Asked Questions About Losing Your Wallet
Here are some frequently asked questions by people who lose their wallets.
Who Should You Contact if You Lose Your Wallet?
As mentioned above, these are the places you should call, immediately, if you lose your wallet.
— The location where your wallet was last seen. Somebody may have turned it in.
— Your local police station. A police report could help the authorities nail an identity thief.
— Your bank or the credit card issuer, or both.
— The DMV. If you have a driver’s license, you’re going to need to replace it.
— Your health insurer.
Can You Track a Lost Wallet?
Yes, you can. There are a number of lost wallet tracker devices out there. These are Bluetooth trackers that are designed for the wallet. You put these tiny, slim trackers into your wallet — generally, they fit like a credit card would — and if you lose your wallet, you use your smartphone to locate the Bluetooth tracker inside your wallet.
Some of the many popular brand names for Bluetooth tracker wallet finders are Chipolo One, Tile Mate, Cube Shadow and Safedome Recharge.
Keep in mind that for many of these devices to work, you must be within a certain range of your wallet, often 200 to 300 feet. So they tend to be excellent for finding your lost wallet in your cluttered home office but not so great if you left your wallet on a bus.
How Does Tile Work to Find a Wallet?
Tile Mate is one of the bigger names in the world of lost wallet tracker devices, so if you’re wondering how it works, here it is, in a nutshell:
You place what Tile Mate calls a Tile Slim tracker in your wallet, and then you’ll need to download the Tile app on your phone. That connects the tracker with your phone, so they can “talk” to each other.
You’ll activate your Tile tracker in the app, and then if you lose your wallet somewhere in your home, you can tap “find” in the app, to make the Tile Slim ring. As long as you get within 200 feet of it, you’ll find the wallet.
(And if you lose your phone but not the wallet, you can double press the Tile logo on your tracker, and your phone will ring loudly — even if it’s on silent.)
If you lost your wallet somewhere else, like somewhere in a city, you can check the Tile app to see where your wallet was last seen.
[SEE: Best Money-Saving Apps]
How Do I Not Lose My Wallet Again?
After you get everything worked out, consider taking these steps to ensure this financial headache doesn’t happen again.
— Keep contact information in your wallet. You need some way for a good Samaritan to contact you; if your driver’s license was in your wallet, your address is already there. Having your business card or your phone number and email address in your wallet would help as well. Tannenbaum says that in the lost wallet study mentioned earlier, researchers learned that there is “indirect data to suggest that people are more likely to return a lost wallet when it’s relatively easy to do so. … While all of this might not seem particularly surprising, there is a consistent body of research to suggest that small frictions or hassles have a much larger influence on behavior than we anticipate.”
— Have a plan if your wallet is lost or stolen. Patti Black, a certified financial planner and partner at Bridgeworth Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama, has a preventive measure you may want to try. She advises copying or scanning the front and back side of all documents in your wallet such as your driver’s license, credit cards and insurance cards. If your wallet or purse is stolen or lost, according to Black, you’ll have an easier time contacting credit card companies and the DMV since all of your information will be right in front of you. “My recommendation is to take action beforehand so you can be better prepared if your wallet is stolen,” Black says.
— Consider a travel wallet. While you’re out of your element, you could change the type of wallet you carry. “A travel wallet is a shoulder holster that you can wear under a jacket or shirt to hide and protect your credit cards, ID, cash, etc.,” White says.
— Designate a place for your wallet. “Establish a routine on where you are going to keep your wallet,” White says. That will help ensure you don’t lose your wallet in your own home. It also could help protect you if you plan on, say, leaving your wallet in your car while you go hiking. In other words, think proactively about where that wallet is going to be if it’s not always going to be with you, rather than mindlessly placing it somewhere.
— Reevaluate your wallet contents. “Keep a minimal amount of items in your wallet to what you really need,” White says. “Don’t take unnecessary cards that you rarely use in your wallet.” And as Cicchelli says, “Any card, receipt, folded-up note and anything else that could possibly be a means of stealing your money or identity has to be dealt with quickly. If your wallet was stolen, the thief can use any number of your personal belongings to wreak havoc on your life.” Then if your wallet is lost or stolen, you can look on the bright side: You now have fewer credit cards or pieces of identification to replace.
More from U.S. News
Update 08/10/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.