You reach into your purse or pocket and it's gone. You've lost your wallet – or worse, it's been stolen.
After you determine that the wallet is definitely gone and not just hiding in a couch cushion, there are some steps you must take quickly:
First, file a police report to establish a record of your loss. They'll need to know when it was lost or stolen, what you think happened and what was in the wallet.
Call your bank. You may need to close and reopen your accounts, and you'll definitely need to cancel your ATM card and get a new one. If you report the loss before someone uses your ATM/debit card, you have zero liability – but your liability increases in other instances: if you report it within two days, your liability is $50; between two and 60 days, your liability is $500, and after 60 days your liability is unlimited.
If your checkbook disappears, you'll need to close that account and reconfigure any direct deposits and auto-payments you've arranged. Make sure your bank alerts the check verification companies to prevent someone using your checks.
Start a call log and list the date, time and people you talk to.
Call your credit card issuers. They will cancel your cards and issue new ones. They'll also ask you about recent transactions. Under federal credit rules, if you report the loss before your card is used fraudulently, you are not liable; if not, your liability is limited to $50.
Call the three major credit reporting bureaus and ask to put a fraud alert on your file, to prevent identity theft in the future. The initial fraud alert stays on for 90 days. You also can request an extended fraud alert, which stays in effect for seven years.
If your Social Security card was in your wallet – and now you know why it NEVER should be – you'll have to call your local Social Security Administration office and explain what happened. They will replace the card for free but you'll have to fill out Form SS-5 and present documentation. Your replacement card will have the same number as the original.
Order your credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus to make sure there's nothing fishy on there. You are entitled to one free report from each of the three bureaus every 12 months through www.annualcreditreport.com – the official site created under the auspices of the Federal Trade Commission. And be sure to regularly review your bank and credit card statements.
Make your life easier next time: Only carry the cards that you need, and never keep your Social Security card or your PIN numbers in your wallet. Keep your other cards in a safe place. Also, write down your credit card numbers and customer service telephone numbers on a piece of paper you'll keep in a safe place. That way, if this happens again, you can quickly and easily report the missing cards to the card issuers.
(Sources: FDIC, FTC, Social Security Administration)