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The Resource Center Identity Theft & Protection | post

Prevent identity theft if your wallet or purse is lost or stolen

by Steve Schwartz on

We talk a lot about identity theft caused by data breeches, hackers, and scams or by us unwittingly putting too much information about ourselves on social media. But what about identity theft the old fashioned way, when a purse or wallet is lost or stolen?

The good folks at AARP remind us this happens all too frequently. A study by Travelers insurance is quoted which claims "of all the cases of ID theft with a known cause, nearly half result from a missing wallet or purse — three times more than from data breaches or online scams aimed at getting your personal info."

A number of helpful suggestions are offered by author Sid Kirchheimer about what should and should not be in our wallets or purses in the first place, and what to do in the event of theft or loss.

You're probably quite familiar with the credit card commercial that ends with the line, "what’s in your wallet?" That, of course, is a good question we should ask ourselves.

The AARP article warns: "Remove especially risky items that shouldn’t be in your wallet to begin with: your Social Security card; “cheat sheets” noting PINs or passwords for bank cards or online accounts; blank checks; and spare keys for your home or car.

The article then offers a piece of advice we should all heed: "Make photocopies of the front and back of every card you keep in your wallet — driver’s license, credit and insurance cards, even your library card (yes, ID thieves have been known to run up fines with a stolen library card, which if unpaid can ding the real holder’s credit score). Keep these copies safely at home as a record of all your account numbers, back-of-card security codes and contact information."

OK, you either have or have not cleaned out your wallet or purse, and it goes missing. What should you do? Many of the steps are the same as you would undertake if you become a victim of ID theft through modern technology.

It should be noted that some of the suggested actions differ if you know the purse or wallet was stolen as opposed to you simply put it down and forgot it.

For instance, the issue of a police report. If you believe the purse or wallet was stolen – your car was broken into and the purse is gone, or you left the wallet on your hotel room desk and it's gone when you get back from the gym – then you must file a police report and get a copy of that report. You likely will need copies for your bank, possibly for credit card companies, to send to the three credit reporting agencies and for personal insurance purposes.

Whether your purse or wallet was clearly stolen or is simply missing, you should place a “fraud alert” on your files at Experian, Equifax and Trans-Union. Depending on the circumstances you might want to go further than a simple fraud alert, and place a security freeze on your files.

Call your credit card issuers and ask for an "account number change" and to have new cards issued. You should not say you want the accounts closed or cancelled. Some card issuers will want a copy of that police report you have duplicated.

You next need to have a talk with your bank. You many need to close and reopen accounts, especially if checkbooks were in the missing purse or blank checks in the wallet. You may need a new ATM card and you should change the various PINs you have at the bank for online banking or for ATM activities.

If you lost your driver's license you need to contact your state agency that issues them to get a new one. Bring along a copy of the police report and ask that an alert be placed in your file.

If the missing wallet or purse contained private medical insurance cards, notify the insurance companies and get replacement cards, possibly with  new numbers. If the missing purse or wallet contained a Medicare card, notify them to put a fraud alert into your Medicare file.

Of course you must begin checking all the monthly statements you get from credit cards, your bank and from medical insurers. Respond immediately if there are problems. If you have online access to these accounts you should check them every few days and not wait for the monthly statements.

These are all common sense responses to any kind of identity theft or potential identity theft. But it's good to be reminded especially during National Cyber Security Awareness Month.