Whether you’re traveling, shopping in a store or entering an elevator, your wallet and all your personal information can get stolen at any time.
If the worst happens, don’t panic about who to call and what to do next — review this step-by-step guide on how to recover from account fraud and identity theft. In the future, it can help to plan ahead and keep your money safe, so take this stroke of bad luck as a learning experience and prevent it from happening again.
Click through to find out how to protect your finances in case your wallet is ever stolen.
1. Secure Emergency Funds
When you report the loss of your credit cards, the company representative will likely restrict those account numbers — leaving you without easy access to funds as you wait for your new cards to arrive by mail.
To avoid the inconvenience, one option is to keep a credit card or cash tucked away at home as a ready-to-use emergency fund when you have no other options.
2. Call the Police
You should call your local police as soon as possible after the theft. This is especially true if your wallet was stolen in an area where cameras were recording. Evidence of the theft on camera can help police apprehend the suspect, and you might even get your wallet back.
A police report can also serve as a record of the theft and help you with creditor disputes related to any resulting fraudulent charges.
3. Call Your Bank
To avoid liability for unauthorized purchases on your debit card, contact your bank as soon as possible so you can get the card canceled. The sooner you report the loss, the less liable you’ll be.
Here’s how your liability breaks down in relation to a debit card:
- Report within two days of the loss — liability up to $50
- Report after two days and within 60 days — liability up to $500
- Report after 60 days — unlimited liability
In contrast, credit card purchases are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act, which will prevent you from being liable for more than $50 worth of unauthorized purchases.
4. Put a Freeze on Your Bank Account If Needed
Although the bank can cancel your debit card without freezing your bank account, that’s not the case if you had blank checks in your wallet at the time of the theft. Putting a freeze on your account will help you avoid being the victim of check fraud. You might find, however, that closing your current account in favor of a new one is the best solution.
5. Call Your Creditors
Call each of your creditors and report your loss. Creditors can invalidate stolen credit card numbers and issue you new ones, which can help block credit card fraud.
Because credit cards are protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you won’t be responsible for more than $50 of unauthorized activity. However, you will likely have to produce evidence and documentation to aid in any fraud investigations.
6. Report Your Missing Government-Issued ID Cards
Contact the appropriate department of licensing in your state to report a stolen driver’s license and request a new one. Some states have a flagging system in place that can send out an alert if your driver’s license is used, which could help catch the thief responsible for stealing your wallet.
You’ll also want to report the theft of your Social Security card if you left it in your wallet. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to cancel your Social Security number, but you can get a new copy of your card. Keep in mind that a stolen SSN can cause a whole host of problems.
7. Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit File
This step is especially important if your Social Security number was compromised. A fraud alert will require businesses to verify your identity before opening any new accounts in your name.
Call one of three credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion or Equifax — and ask the representative to place a fraud alert on your credit file. You will only have to call one of the credit bureaus, not all three. The bureau you contact is required by law to notify the other two bureaus. The alert is free and will last for one year, after which you can request a renewal.
8. Report the Incident to the Federal Trade Commission
In the event that the thief gains access to information tied to your identity — such as your Social Security number, bank account numbers, driver’s license or passport — you should report the loss to the Federal Trade Commission. You can complete the online form or call the FTC at 877-438-4338.
The FTC will use the information you provide to create an identity theft report and recovery plan, which you can use to prove to businesses that someone stole your identity. Recovering from identity theft guarantees you certain rights, such as free copies of your credit report.
9. Contact the IRS
One way thieves use your personal information to steal your identity is by submitting a fake tax return in your name and claiming a refund. You can fill out the Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039, from the IRS to block this kind of activity. You’ll need clear photocopies of personal identification documents, such as your driver’s license, your Social Security card or a valid federal or state identification card to make your claim.
10. Monitor Your Credit Reports
To help detect any signs of identity theft, monitor your credit reports from the three credit bureaus. Beyond receiving free credit reports, you can sign up for a credit and identity monitoring service, like Complete ID or ID Watchdog. Either way, make sure the monitoring includes reports from all three credit bureaus because they might not have the same information.
11. Monitor Your Bank, Credit Card and Health Insurance Statements
It’s also important to monitor other statements — like your health insurance — regarding any unusual activity. An identity thief can obtain health services in your name in an effort to stick you with their costly health insurance bills.
Each month, take the time to review and confirm every transaction noted on your credit card, bank and health insurance statements. You can do this by looking at paper statements or logging in to your accounts online. If you happen to notice any fraudulent activity, contact your credit card, bank or insurance provider immediately.
12. Update Recurring Payments
Once you receive your new credit cards, you’ll need to update any recurring payments you have set up with the new information so that you won’t miss an upcoming payment. Also, if you happened to close your bank account and open a new one, you’ll need to update any direct deposit or electronic transfer agreements you have in place.
Note that major credit card companies can provide “updater” services to give merchants your new credit card account numbers and expiration dates, so don’t panic too much about missing payments if you have American Express, Discover, Mastercard or Visa.
13. Make a Copy of Everything in Your Wallet
Hindsight is 20/20 if you get your wallet stolen. To make things easier in an emergency situation, take the time to make a copy of everything now. Use a photocopier or your smartphone to take a picture of the front and back of your credit cards, discount cards and insurance cards. Remove items that have extremely sensitive information, such as your Social Security card.
Taking steps to organize all of your financial information in advance can help you confirm what’s missing in the event of a loss and make it easier to report.
Click through to see mindless ways you’re putting your identity at risk every day.
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