What to Do if You Lose Your Wallet or Purse

When I was a teenager, I lost my wallet for the first, and thankfully last, time.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have much in it except a few dollars and my high school identification card. Even that loss felt like a monumental pain in the butt but I can’t imagine what it would be like now if I lost my wallet.

Nowadays, I don’t carry a wallet. I have a money clip wallet, which is a small pocket of leather and a clip to hold bills and frequently used credit cards. It holds my driver’s license, a couple credit cards, cash, and a few other useful cards like medical insurance and my ATM card. It has a photo of me and my lovely wife at a college formal and a note she wrote many years ago.

Outside of that, it contains little else. No receipts. No business cards. No loyalty cards. No cards I don’t use on a weekly basis.

It was difficult to make the transition from a wallet to a money clip but when I did, it was very freeing. I have never missed not having all the accumulated junk. The streamlined nature of my wallet also makes it easy to replace if I ever lose it. I know exactly what’s in it because there’s so very little in it.

Table of Contents
  1. Steps to Take Pre-Loss
  2. File a Police Report
  3. Replace Your Driver’s License
  4. Replace Your Social Security Card
  5. Cancel and Replace Your Credit and Debit Cards
  6. Replace Your Insurance Cards
  7. Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit

Steps to Take Pre-Loss

If you haven’t lost it yet and are just being pro-active, here’s what you need to do.

First, remove everything that isn’t essential. If you don’t touch it on a daily or weekly basis, remove it right now and just set it aside. If you misjudged what you need and find yourself needing a piece of paper or card, stick it back in.

Next, take an inventory of everything it holds. You should have backup information on anything your wallet or purse that’s important. This will include credit and debit cards, your driver’s license, insurance cards, and any type of membership cards.

At a minimum, you should have a list of the names, account numbers, and contact phone numbers for each document. An even better strategy is to keep a copy of each document or card – front and back.

The purpose of recording the information is to make it easier to take action after your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. Even if you’re like me and “know,” putting it down on paper makes the recovery so much faster because you won’t need to look up information like a customer service number.

Do not put your Social Security Card in your wallet. This is the biggest mistake people make – there’s no reason to carry it. If there is a reason, you know about it ahead of time.

Finally, some more streamlining tips:

  • You shouldn’t need any more than one or two credit cards or debit cards. Any others should be removed.
  • Don’t keep a blank check. It contains a ton of valuable information and when do you ever need a check?
  • Don’t carry investment account information in your wallet or purse. It could give potential thieves access to your assets.
  • Don’t carry information that identifies your spouse or children.
  • Leave your car registration in your car or at home, but not in your wallet or purse.

Now let’s look at what you should do if you actually lose your wallet or purse.

File a Police Report

You may find this surprising but this is the first step – filing a police report. You shouldn’t expect the police to be able to do much to help recover your wallet or purse but a report will facilitate some later steps (like getting a new driver’s license). This creates an official record of the loss or theft.

If a complication should develop, the police report will be an objective, third-party verification of the loss. It sets a clear date and anything that may happen afterwards can be attributed to the loss, rather than something you did. If you need to take additional steps, like file an insurance claim, you’ll need the police report for documentation.

Whatever else you do, don’t skip this step. And who knows, the police just might recover your wallet or purse.

Replace Your Driver’s License

If you drive, you have a license. If you want to continue driving, you’ll want a license. In many states, the “failure to display” a license carries a fine that is quite annoying. In Maryland, it’s a $50 fine. (this is not to be confused with driving without a license, which carries a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail)

The procedure for this differs in each state but boils down to going to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and getting a replacement.

In Maryland, as in many states, you can do this entirely online or at a MVA kiosk by ordering a duplicate license. It arrives in 10 days by mail to your address and costs $20. When you order the replacement online, you will be able to print a temporary document that can act as a license until your real one arrives in the mail.

Here are the lost license/replacement websites to help you find it quickly:

Replace Your Social Security Card

If you kept your Social Security Card in your wallet or purse, you may be able to order a replacement online. The process is outlined on this page.

The my Social Security portal lets you order a replacement card if you have a driver’s license or ID card from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware (driver’s license only), District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington, or Wisconsin (driver’s license only).

If you do not have a license or ID from one of those states, you will have to go through the more arduous process of presenting original documents to get a replacement. This includes proof of citizenship (birth certificate or U.S. Passport) and identity (driver’s license, ID card, passport; or other type of identification like a school or employee ID card). A U.S. passport can act as both proof of citizenship and identity.

(if you need a new passport, here’s the best place to get cheap passport photos)

It can be a huge pain. 🙁

Cancel and Replace Your Credit and Debit Cards

As soon as you become aware that your wallet or purse has been lost, contact the card issuers immediately. They’ll cancel the existing card account numbers and reissue new cards. If your wallet was stolen, this makes it impossible for thieves to use the cards. It is also a requirement for the credit card’s liability protections. If you failure to report loss as soon as you become aware of it, you may be responsible for the fraud!

This is another strong argument for keeping at least some of your cards at home. If your wallet or purse is lost or stolen, you can use the other cards to carry on while you’re waiting for replacements on those that were lost.

Replace Your Insurance Cards

It’s common to carry various insurance cards in a wallet or purse. These can include cards or documents for car insurance, health insurance, dental insurance and vision coverage.

The recommendation here is the same as it is for credit and debit cards – cancel them and have them replaced. Identity thieves have gotten quite creative, and it’s not beyond imagination that a fraudulent insurance claim could be filed under your plan.

Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit

A fraud alert notifies creditors to contact you before issuing new credit. It also raises the possibility that a credit card company will contact you in the event of a large charge to the account.

You can file a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus through their websites:

(Note: Equifax states that if you file a fraud alert with them, they’ll forward the alert to TransUnion and Experian.)

As you can see, protecting yourself from the loss of your wallet or purse is part prevention and part response. Be ready with both, and you’ll minimize the damage to your credit and your finances.

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools, everything I use) is Empower Personal Dashboard, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

>> Read more articles by Jim

Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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6 years ago

My wife had hers stolen a year ago. I can’t stress enough the importance of a police report. In a truly worse case a criminal could use your id to identify themselves to a cop while committing a crime. That could make your life painful. A report also helps with getting a credit freeze.

You know people don’t think there are pickpockets anymore when I tell them someone stole it. I believe petty crime doesn’t cease. It’s just reported less or fewer media reports than before.

I got pickpocketed on the bus last year. Jerks!!! Always close your bags ladies. You can’t trust everybody.

6 years ago

This would be my worst nightmare. Sometimes I think it’s missing and then I realize I just misplaced it heheh.

Michael Zierdt
6 years ago

I regularly scan to a PDF both sides of everything in my wallet and e-mail it to my g-Mail account so I can access it from anywhere. That way I have account numbers, contact info, etc.

chris kemnitz
6 years ago

Leaving your car registration in the car or at home runs opposite of anything I’ve been taught. Leaving it in the car allows the thief to claim ownership of the car that he stole. Leaving it at home makes it tough if you get a ticket when the police person asks “Can I have your license and registration please”.

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