I dropped my wallet on the street during my freshman year and didn’t realize it until a stranger called my dorm letting me know he found it smooshed alongside a street curb. He was kind enough to return it to me that same day.
I was incredibly lucky. But should you find yourself in a pickle after losing your wallet or having it stolen, here’s a step-by-step on how to protect your money and identity immediately. The overarching tip here is: ACT FAST.
Cancel All Debit and Credit Cards. Keep a list of all your credit card company phone numbers and bank numbers so you can quickly call them in case of an emergency like this. The Fair Credit Billing Act says that your credit card liability is capped at $50. Meanwhile your debit card liability is up to $500– if you inform your bank of your missing debit card within two days of noticing it. If you wait more than 60 days to report a lost or stolen debit card, you may face unlimited liability. Visa, MasterCard and American Express also offer zero-liability protection on unauthorized debit card transactions, though some restrictions apply.
Report Incident to Credit Bureaus. Set up a fraud alert with one of the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. The law requires each agency to report your loss to the other two and a fraud alert will be placed on all three of your credit reports initially for about 90 days. If you are a victim of identity theft and you file an identity theft affidavit, you can place an extended fraud alert on your credit reports for free. This lasts for seven years and entitles you to two free copies of your credit reports within the first 12 months.
File a Local Police Report. This is to cover your bases, in case your wallet gets in the wrong hands and that person steals your identity and begins to make charges to your credit card down the road – after fraud protection is lifted. With a copy of your police report, you can prove that those charges don’t belong to you.
For more tips on protecting yourself from identity theft, check out these Credit.com resources:
- What to Do If Your Wallet Is Stolen
- 12 Tips for Protecting Your Identity
- Consumer Guide to Identity Theft: The Basics
- Identity Theft Emergency: 5 Crucial Steps for Victims
Image by rachel_titiriga, via Flickr