It’s something right out of a nightmare: Your purse or wallet is lost or — worse — stolen. The information in your purse or wallet can be used to make fraudulent purchases, or to obtain the information ID thieves need to impersonate you. As soon as realize what has happened, you need to take action.
Photo by Daniel Moyle via Flickr
1. Request New Account Numbers
The first thing you need to do is get to a phone and notify your card issuers of the situation. ATM, debit and credit cards all need new account numbers. You probably need a new bank account number.
Most financial institutions have policies in place that allow you to get new account numbers with all the same benefits of the old account. Indeed, when the PlayStation Network hack threatened one of my credit cards, I called the issuer immediately. They changed my account number and transfered everything — terms, rewards accrued and all — to the new number.
Consider carefully before just canceling your credit cards; in some cases closing your account could have a negative impact on your credit score.
2. Lock Down Your Smart Phone
When you lose your purse, chances are your phone is inside. You can try calling the phone to see if a good samaritan has answered. However, this is not something you should spend a lot of time doing — especially if you have a smart phone full of personal information and with access to your financial accounts.
There are apps that allow you to lock down your phone, or erase everything, remotely. Institute this protocol if you are concerned about the situation. You can also call your cell phone service provider and have the phone service canceled and transfered to a new phone/account. You may lose the data you had on your phone, but it’s the price you pay for protection.
3. Report to Local Law Enforcement
Make sure you file a report with local law enforcement. This becomes an official record of the event, and one that is useful if your identity is stolen. It can help you avoid liability for fraudulent charges. You should ask for a copy of the police report for your own records, and keep it in a safe place.
4. Ask for a Fraud Alert and/or Credit Freeze
In many cases, it’s easier to prevent identity fraud/theft than to clean up the mess after it has already occurred. You can reduce the chances that a fraudster can use your stolen identity by having a fraud alert and/or credit freeze placed on your credit report (you will need to call each bureau individually). This way, before credit can be opened in your name, lenders have to take extra steps to verify your identity, sometimes even calling you. It can make it difficult for you to get a loan, but the trouble is worth it if it keeps your identity safe.
5. Report Your Driver’s License as Missing
You should contact your state’s DMV to find out what to do if your driver’s license is missing. You will likely be issued a new license, and, hopefully, it will have a different number associated with it than your old one.
6. Change Your Locks and Keys
When my coat was stolen out of my church, it had keys and my driver’s license in the pockets (no purse or wallet, thankfully). Because my driver’s license listed my address, I was worried that someone could find my home, and enter with the key — or drive away with my car. I had the locks changed, and the car re-keyed. It was on the pricey side, but my peace of mind was worth it. If you had a spare key in your wallet, or kept your car keys in your purse, consider changing the locks.
7. Monitor Your Credit for Suspicious Activity
Keep up with your credit, monitoring it regularly. You can do it yourself, checking in every few months with the credit agencies, or you can use a credit monitoring service. Watch your account statements carefully, and look for signs that someone has stolen your identity. You want to catch it quickly, so it can be taken care of as soon as possible.
Have you been in this situation before? What did you do when it happened?
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.