Big data breaches get a lot of attention for putting Americans’ personal information at risk, but many people are walking around a ready-made identity-theft kit in their back pocket: their wallet.
“People have a ton of stuff in their wallets,” said Henry Bagdasarian, founder of the Identity Management Institute, an organization that assesses identity theft risks in companies. If you’re wallet gets stolen, he says, “it’s not uncommon for someone to use someone else’s information to make a new account or access someone’s account.”
If a thief snatches your wallet, there are some simple steps to take that can mitigate the risk of identity theft:
Call & cancel your cards
The first thing to do if your wallet gets stolen is call and cancel or freeze all debit and credit cards. Many wallet thieves will immediately start using your cards, so reporting the theft can also be an important step to get back any fraudulent purchases.
If you have cash in your wallet, you’ll likely have to write that off, which is one reason why you may want to consider going digital with your money.
The bank or card issuer will send you replacement cards in 7-10 business days, though it may be possible to expedite that timeline. Talk to your financial institution.
File a police report
While this may seem like a dramatic step, filing an official police report can protect against identity theft. Local authorities may be able to recover the wallet, and an official report can be used as evidence if you file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC can report your information to creditors and lenders to keep you from identity theft.
If you need to make a claim with your homeowners, renters or travel insurance company, the police report may be required.
Set up fraud alerts & check your credit report
Even if a thief doesn't use your cards immediately, you should set up alerts to ensure they won’t in the future.
Setting up alerts on all accounts can immediately signal issuers and lenders to any suspicious activity. This keeps financial damage and security concerns to a minimum and keeps you off the hook for any illegal activity occurring on your accounts, said Bagdasarian.
Regularly check your credit reports over the next year for any suspicious activity. Get a free credit report each year from the three credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — via AnnualCreditReport.com. Check out our guide to reading a credit report.
Replace any other cards
This includes your Social Security card, insurance card and any membership cards (like a gym membership or library card). A Social Security card is one of the hardest cards to replace, and makes it easy for thieves to steal your identity, said Bagdasarian.
It’s recommended to keep your Social Security in a safe place outside your wallet. If it was stolen, order an immediate credit freeze from the three national credit bureaus. This will prevent someone from opening up a new line of credit in your name. You may also apply for a new card from the Social Security administration.
As for any other cards, you should contact the businesses as soon as possible to get a replacement. This is why it’s helpful to know exactly what’s in your wallet beforehand, as it makes it easier to replace everything of value, said Bagdasarian.
“We recommend people should know exactly what is in their wallet,” he said. “The hardest thing is to figure out what is in their wallet after a theft.”
Get a new driver’s license
You can’t legally drive a car without a license, so you’ll need to replace it ASAP. Visit your local DMV to obtain a new license. Each state has different requirements and costs associated with getting a new license, so make sure you have everything together beforehand.
Consider identity theft protection
While there are some steps you can take to protect yourself, you still may be vulnerable to identity theft if your wallet is stolen. But identity theft insurance can financially protect you if you’ve fallen victim. This insurance covers any cost associated with getting one’s credit and identity back in good standing, including credit reports, legal fees or phone bills.
And consider this: the number one way to avoid getting your wallet stolen is to not carry one in the first place. The case for ditching your wallet.