Personal Finance 

How to Recover From a Lost Wallet

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Costanza WalletIn this inaugural post to the Financial Contingency Plan series, I want to discuss one of the most common financial disasters – losing your wallet. Whether you carry a money clip, an actual wallet, or an entire purse, losing it is one of the most demoralizing financial events that can happen to a person. Your wallet is a compartmentalization of your financial identity and contains your driver’s license, your cash, any credit and debit cards, your photos, insurance information, and other financial tidbits.

This is what you need to do to prepare for and recover from a lost wallet.

Preparing for a Lost Wallet

The first step in preparing for a lost wallet is to remove everything you don’t need on a daily basis. You want to avoid a Costanza-style wallet where you have every last receipt, business card, and scribbled note you ever received. Clean your wallet out every single day of the junk you don’t actually need on a daily basis. You should not have any gift cards, business cards to restaurants you like, or receipts whatsoever. File those away if you need to keep them or recycle them.

Next, take your Social Security card out of your wallet. Way too many people keep this crucial document in their wallet when there’s absolutely no need for it. You will never need your Social Security card without knowing beforehand (you should have your own Social Security number memorized though). Take out any blank checks too, that piece of paper has your account number on it too.

Scan or photograph every item in your wallet. The last thing you want to do is try to remember what you had in your wallet whenever you lost it. That’s why I recommend taking a picture of everything at least once every three months, or more often if you’re especially ambitious, so that you don’t have to remember. This will also give you a list of things to do if you do lose your wallet.

Keep at least one backup credit or debit card outside of your wallet. If you lose your wallet, you’ll be canceling every credit and debit card you had in the wallet. This will leave you without access to those funds for a few days as new cards are mailed to you. You need to keep a backup card on a different account so you won’t be stuck for those few days.

After You’ve Lost Your Wallet

That sucks. You should spend a bit of time trying to find it but if you can’t locate it after a day (or after 8 hours anyway), it’s time to prepare for the reality that you’ve lost your wallet for good.

Get your list of contents and start calling everything on that list. Cancel your credit and debit cards, inform any accounts of your lost wallet, and do it quickly. If someone stole your wallet, it won’t take much time for them to start using those cards, especially debit cards. While you are protected by federal consumer protection laws, you save yourself a lot of time by preventing fraud in the first place (who wants to wait on hold to talk to a fraud specialist?).

Call your Department of Motor Vehicles to inform them of a lost license. Chances are you’ll need to make a trip to your DMV in order to get a new license to replace the one you’ve lost. Be sure to bring all the required documents and be prepared to wait a bit, DMV’s aren’t known for their good timing.

Keep an eye on your credit report. Your driver’s license has a lot of information on it, information an identity thief would love to have. If it also includes your Social Security number (or if you left your SS card in your wallet), there’s enough information for a thief to make a nice clone so you’ll want to put a security alert on your report with the bureaus. If you are especially cautious, you could go as far as putting a credit freeze.

That should prepare you in the vent you lose your wallet, are there tips that you use that I missed for this Financial Contingency Plan?

(Photo: shareski)

{ 24 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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24 Responses to “How to Recover From a Lost Wallet”

  1. michele says:

    I lost my card case on a vacation trip a few years ago. I lost my credit cards and my drivers lisence. Which was a major pain since I was going to fly home and needed ID to get on the plane. I looked for hours for the case, retracing my every step and nothing. tore apart the rental car. even went to the police station to report the case lost, and the officer looked in the car too. I went to the public library to get the contact information of every card I was carrying, and canceled all the cards. Luckily I had run in some where and I had one lone cc in my back jeans pocket. I resumed my trip and hoped I would be able to get home.

    2 days later I spotted on the floor of the car, in spot where I know I looked several times and the police officer looked at least once. There was my card case, with all my useless cards and my DL. What a pain.

  2. CreditShout says:

    Thanks for the tips. Losing your wallet doesn’t have to be a huge headache. I think the most important tip you offer is keeping your SSN somewhere safe at home.

  3. I got my wallet stolen a fews ago. It was returned to me intact a few days later through the mail, missing only the few dollars in cash that I had. Unfortunately this was well after I canceled everything and got a new license.

  4. Max says:

    I think one good tip to prepare before you lose your wallet is to leave a contact card in an obvious place in your wallet with your phone number, so that someone who finds your wallet can call you right away, and then you can arrange to meet them.

    Your wallet would obviously have your driver’s license in it, so that someone could mail you your wallet if they find it.

    However, if you’re traveling and in general, it’s much more convenient for both you and the person that finds your wallet if they can just call you right away, and you can go pick up your wallet in person immediately.

    This could even be a business card if you have one, and just leave it in an obvious place that someone will see when first opening your wallet.

    • Shirley says:

      The same thing applies to thumb drives that are carried with you. Create a text file named
      !Owner-Info.txt (The ! keeps it at the top if files are alphabetically arranged.)

      If found, this flash drive belongs to:
      My Name
      My address
      City, State zip
      Phone number
      Email address

      Please let her know that you have found me so
      that she can make arrangements for my return home.

      Thank you ever so much for your honesty and integrity.

  5. Master Allan says:

    A little bit off topic but the subject reminds me of an event that happened a few years ago. I was out with a friend and we decided to visit a local pool hall. Not wanting to carry valuables and extras in her purse we arrived at the location and she locked it in her vehicle’s trunk. Someone was likely watching us and of all possible times the car door did not lock properly. Upon leaving 30 minutes later, we discovered a missing purse complete with lost SS card and nothing else touched.

    Now when I have to make a quick side trip somewhere and want to minimize the sight of my backpack, laptop bag, Fry’s Electronics plastic bag loaded with goodies I take an additional step for security. I’ll stop before reaching my destination and place the items in the trunk ahead of time so at least no one can see me securing valuables right there in the parking lot.

  6. cdiver says:

    This could have come in very handy a few years back. Lesson learned. Thanks.

  7. zapeta says:

    I don’t keep my SS card in my wallet, and I made a copy front and back of the cards in my wallet. This way if I lose anything I have the numbers available.

  8. This happened to me a while back too. Of course, it was worse because I knew all the right things to do, but I was lazy and didn’t do them. The biggest lesson learned is don’t cut corners here. Just do it, be careful, and hope for the best.

  9. Shirley says:

    Thanks for an excellent article to be passed on to the teens in our family. Teens often seem to have the built-in ability to ‘lose wallet once per year’. 😉

  10. lostAnnfound says:

    A couple years ago my husband found a wallet in a neighborhood near our house. It turned out to belong to a woman who was up from VA or MD (we’re in New England) at a local military base. She had credit cards, license, some cash & her military ID. Hubby turned it into checkpoint gate and got a call a few days later from the woman who could not thank him enough for turning it in. She was very concerned about losing her military ID more than anything else it seemed. She was so grateful she sent husband a nice gift basket from Harry & David as a thank you.

    I could only hope that if I ever lost my wallet someone as honest as my husband would find it.

    • Frugal says:

      Similar case, found a wallet some time ago, tried to contact the owner in vain. Turned it over to the cops and declined the reward (told him to keep it as my charitable contribution). I like to keep low profile and do not wish to be named anywhere.

      • lostAnnfound says:

        My husband didn’t want to give his name either, just wanted to drop off the wallet, but the guard at the gate “insisted” that he give his name and contact info. He decided it was a good idea to do so, especially since he was wearing his “City of ______ DPW” shirt (he was working) and was easily identifiable anyway.

  11. Making copies of the credit cards and keeping them in a safe place is a good idea. Never thought of that.

    And it amazes me that anyone actually carries their social security card around. If you can memorize a telephone number you can remember your SSN.

  12. Mike says:

    5 years ago I had my wallet stolen. Here are my additional tips:

    1. Put CC and Debit card customer service phone #’s in your cell phone. They are on the back of the card, which doesn’t do you any good after the cards are gone.

    2. I had recently changed banks, and they gave me a small business card size paper with my account # on it and the bank name. I memorized the #, but forgot to throw the card away. Consequentially I had about 8k in stolen checks passed through my account. (This was the banks fault as I notified them of the theft and they advised leaving the account open, but flagging it for any activity which the tellers ignored)…..Now what I do is keep a small post-it with my account numbers but I use a code. My first language is english, but I also speak Spanish and took biblically greek in college. So I use greek letters to write out the number is spanish. That way if someone gets a hold of it, it’s just gibberish to them.

  13. Zenoiba says:

    There is no way to leave your SSN at home if you have a Medicare card or Military ID.

  14. Ijeva Bambridge says:

    I think this is a FANTASTIC IDEA!! I am going to go thru my wallet right now…thanks!!

  15. Lacy says:

    Instead of taking a picture of everything important in your wallet, here is another option. I have an excel spreadsheet that I created with important account names, numbers, phone numbers, login, and such. I print it and keep it in my safe, and check for updates often. Put CCards, DCards, banking, DL #, any membership cards, etc. It is all on one sheet, if anything happens, grab the sheet and go down the list.

  16. I think losing your wallet would be devastating, but even worse would be losing a cell phone (if it wasn’t password protected).
    Using some form of password protection on your phone is the best thing you can do to protect your personal information. A lost smartphone could mean compromising your friends’ personal information, your email accounts, calendar, passwords, and more!

  17. Ruth Pearson says:

    Copy both sides of your cards as the phone #”S
    you need for reporting are there. Also notify
    the police as well as the major credit bureaus.

  18. Ruth Pearson says:

    I also meant to add the ID Dept. of police say
    never never carry your check book.

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