Last week, an acquaintance of mine had her purse stolen. In it, she had her whole life of personal finance stuff: IDs, credit cards, etc. Within hours, whoever stole it had used her cards, and she has had to spend hours each day since battling the theft by calling banks, writing letter, etc. It is truly horrible. However, what makes it even worse is, she had her Social Security card in her wallet, so this criminal will most likely steal her identity as well an open up credit cards and other things in her name.
A Dose of Prevention
While there is nothing you can do to avoid your purse or wallet being stolen, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself from future harm. And it starts at home before you take your purse or wallet out of the house.
1. Create a List of Everything In Your Purse or Wallet. You should list everything you have in it, from ID’s to video rental cards, even pictures of family and cosmetics. For all credit cards and debit cards, write down the account number AND the phone number on the back of the card so you can call. The same applies to all other cards as well, write down the number. For any ID’s, make sure you have the ID number written down, as well as the expiration date.
2. While You Are Looking At Your Purse or Wallet, Remove These Items. There are some items you should never carry in your purse or wallet. If you do, take them out immediately and store them in a safe place at home.
- Social Security Card
- Account Numbers and/or Password List
- Mailbox or Safe Deposit Box Locations
You should also consider never to carry checks, as they can be easily forged if stolen (stick to a debit card instead), and only carry 1-2 credit cards at a time. A good choice would be to keep a Visa/Mastercard and an Amex card, since some merchants are very either/or about the types of cards they take.
What To Do If Your Purse or Wallet Is Stolen
If the worst happens, here are the steps you should follow.
1. Call the police and file a report. It is essential to file a police report so that you don’t become a victim of identity theft, and if the police later find the criminal, it will be easier to prosecute. Furthermore, some banks and credit card issuers may request that you send them a copy of the police report as evidence, so that when you dispute fraudulent charges, you have some proof your identity was stolen. The sad part of identity theft is that it can be a battle for years. Make sure you keep a copy because you may have to send companies a copy years from now.
2. Call all of your credit card and debit card issuers from your list. Make sure you call them and tell them that your purse or wallet was stolen. All issuers have plan in place to address this type of situation. You need to have alerts placed on your account, and new cards issued to you. If charges have already been made, you will need to formally dispute them in writing, and most likely send a copy of the police report.
3. Report your missing ID card. The reporting and re-issuing of identification varies by state, but it is important that you quickly do so because you need an ID so often in life.
4. Call the 3 Major Credit Bureaus and request a fraud alert. To prevent anyone from opening accounts without your knowledge, place a fraud alert as soon as possible. This fraud alert will require creditors to verify your identity before approving any credit. You can contact the major bureaus here:
- Experian: 1-888-Experian
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
5. If you had keys in your purse, change your locks. And if you weren’t home at the time your purse was stolen, have a friend or police officer go home with you when you go for the first time. If the thief has your address and keys, they very well have have gone to steal more stuff. Change you locks the same day, and get an escort with you until its done.
6. If you had checks in your purse, contact the major Check Verification Services. Not only should you immediately contact your bank and close your checking account (new account numbers don’t work for traditional bank accounts), you also need to contact the Check Verification Services that retailers use. According to the FTC, there is no federal law that limits your losses should someone obtain your checks and forge your signature. However, many states do have laws. But to best protect yourself, gives these services a call:
- TeleCheck: 1-800-710-9898
- Certegy: 1-800-770-3792
- International Check Services: 1-800-631-9656
7. Finally, about 3 months later, pull your credit report for free. You should wait three months to make sure that any activity that may have occurred would be posted on your report. If you do it too soon, you may think everything is fine, when in reality, the report just hasn’t updated yet. You can get a free report every year from Annual Credit Report.com, and look for any suspicious activity that is not from you.
Hopefully, this never happens to you. But identity theft does occur, and it affected over 10,000,000 Americans in 2010. That is a huge number. An ounce of prevention can go a long way to making the recovery much easier.
Readers, have you ever been the victim of identity theft? Any other advice you want to share?
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.