By Kathy Sweedler/University of Illinois Extension
Many of us know that dreadful feeling when you realize you've lost your wallet. But once you've confirmed that your wallet is lost, what do you need to do?
Your first concern is to stop the potential for identity theft by someone using the information found in your wallet. Then, take steps to replace your identification, insurance and other cards that are likely stored in your wallet.
If you have a debit card, contact the bank or credit union that issued the card to you immediately. Your liability for losses is higher with a debit card than a credit card. Federal laws limit your liability (how much you could lose) with a credit card to $50. If you report a lost debit card within two days, your liability is $50 — but your liability goes up as time passes until you risk losing everything in your account.
Next, report the loss to your local police department. Ask for the report number and a hard copy of the report.
Even with limited dollar liability for lost credit cards, report them to the financial institutions and companies that issued them as soon as possible. These businesses will change your account numbers and send new cards to you.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports so that someone can't use your identity to open up new accounts. Contact one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) and request a free fraud alert. A fraud alert means that lenders must take extra precautions to verify your identity before granting credit in your name.
If you place a fraud alert with one of the credit reporting companies, it will notify the other two agencies. Once you place the alert, you will receive a free credit report from each of the bureaus. Check this baseline information to be sure it is all accurate. Then you can recheck your reports in a few weeks to be sure there is no identity theft activity.
Another step you might want to consider to protect your identity is to put a freeze on your credit reports. A freeze means that no new credit can be issued — not to you or to someone pretending to be you. To place a credit freeze, you need to contact each of the three credit reporting companies for a small fee. You can end the freeze, but it takes up to three days.
Hopefully, your Social Security card is not in your lost wallet. Your Social Security number is the number most useful to people interested in stealing your identity; protect this number. If your card is missing, though, contact your local Social Security office or visit their website at http://www.ssa.gov/. Lost Medicare cards also are replaced by Social Security offices.
Lost driver's licenses can be replaced at any driver services facility in the state. You will need acceptable identification and to pay a fee.
Also, don't forget to report missing insurance cards that might be in your wallet to your insurance companies.
Do you think you could remember everything that's in your wallet? You might want to make a list of your wallet contents or make a copy of all the cards so that you will know who to contact just in case your wallet goes missing. Make sure to copy both the front and back of cards. Many times the customer service phone number is on the card's back — a handy piece of information.
Losing your wallet means time spent reporting losses. While it's a chore, don't panic. Just make a list of who to contact and work your way through the list.
This article was suggested by a reader of this column — and to that reader, I say, "Thank you!" I always appreciate topic ideas. If you have a topic you'd like covered, please send your suggestions to my email address.
I'm also happy to tell you about a new University of Illinois Extension program: Money Mentors helps people organize their finances and matches people who need help with those trained in money management. If you are interested in learning more about the program or to be paired with a Money Mentor, please call Cayla Waters at 442-8615.
Kathy Sweedler is a consumer economics educator at the UI Extension. Contact her at 333-7672 or email email@example.com.