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Your Wallet Recovery Kit

An interactive tool records data to help recover from a lost or stolen wallet

By Melody Warnick, graphics by Juan Rodriguez, video by Kristin Wong

Imagine your wallet's been lost or stolen. Would you know what to do? Who to call?

Welcome to the Wallet Recovery Kit.

This free, interactive guide contains the tools you need to minimize the damage and recover quickly, keeping your identity and your money as safe as possible. To do this, we focus on three Rs:

  • Remove: We'll tell you the things that you should never carry in your wallet.
  • Record: We'll lay out what information you need to write down and store away now.
  • Recover: We'll tell you who to contact after your wallet goes missing -- and what to say when you speak with them.

Watch the video and then take a tour through the guide. The end product is a set of documents you can print out and store in a secure place. If the worst should happen, you'll have what you need to immediately stop the damage and start the recovery.

It's secure: None of the information you type in will be captured or tracked in any way by CreditCards.com because the sensitive information you'll enter never leaves your computer. You'll download helpful forms, fill them in and save them to your own computer. If you have concerns, you can just print out any of the blank forms and fill them out offline instead.

Let's get started!

Credit Card Recovery Kit
By Melody Warnick

DEBIT CARD

Intro: In addition to serving as an all-access pass to your bank account, your debit card likely doubles as a check card, so it can be swiped like a credit card, no PIN required. Having one stolen is a pain, but you can get back on track relatively quickly.

Risk level: High. Even if the thief can't figure out the PIN number to siphon cash from your account, if your debit card carries a VISA or MasterCard logo it's a snap to use. Even scarier: A debit card isn't as well protected by federal fraud laws, so you're more likely to be on the hook for some of the criminal's purchases.

Who to contact: Call your bank right away. We asked you to fill in the number on the Wallet Recovery Kit form; now it's time to use it. And if you haven't filled it in yet, you can find the phone number on your most recent bank statement or online. Ask to be connected with someone who handles fraud.

What you should say: Give them your account number, along with any details you have about when and where the card went missing. Before you cancel the card, ask the bank rep to check your account for recent activity. If your card's been used fraudulently already, write the details down; you'll need them to make a police report. Then discuss whether to have the bank put a 24-hour freeze on your account. It'll lock down your money to prevent more bad transactions from going through. (The downside: You'll be shut out too.)

What to expect: If you report the theft within two days, you're legally liable for only $50 of fraudulent purchases; after that, you may have to pay up to $500. Ask your bank to forgive it all anyway. You'll need to fill out forms to formally report the fraud; they'll ask for a police case number, so talk to the police beforehand.

What to do now: Luckily, it shouldn't take long to replace your card. If your bank has a local branch, it can often issue a new debit card on the spot. (Make sure to choose a new PIN.) But if you're forced to wait a few days for your debit card, go the old-fashioned route: cash and checks.

CREDIT CARD

Intro: You rely on your credit card (or several of them) to pay for things quickly, easily and securely, so having it go missing can feel like a disaster. But most credit card companies know how to get you back in action without too much hassle.

Risk level: High. These days it's pretty simple to steal a credit card, and even easier to use it fraudulently. (This person stole your wallet; she won't have qualms about forging your signature.) The one piece of good news: Federal law limits your liability for fraudulent purchases, and most banks have zero-liability policies, so you likely won't be out a cent if you act quickly.

Who to contact: Call your credit card company right away. We asked you to fill in the number on the Wallet Recovery Kit form; now it's time to use it. And if you haven't filled it in yet, check your most recent card statement for contact info or go online, searching the name of your card company plus "report stolen card." Virtually all card companies have active fraud detection departments, so they may get in touch with you first.

What you should say: Tell them your account number and when your card went missing. (Don't have your account number written down? Get ready to answer verifying questions about your financial life, such as when you bought your car or who holds your mortgage note.) The customer service rep will check your account for recent activity and ask you to confirm if the purchases were yours or not.

What to expect: If your card has been used fraudulently, you'll be asked to fill out a form to report the fraud. (You may need a police case number first.) Even if it hasn't been misused, your card company will cancel the card and issue a new one, which should arrive by mail within a week. Don't worry, you won't lose reward points; they'll transfer to your new card.

What to do now: Until your new credit card arrives, you'll have to rely on checks, cash or a spare credit card. You'll also want to remove the stolen card's data from online accounts or automatic bill-pay programs.

GIFT CARD OR PREPAID CARD

Intro: A gift card or a prepaid credit card is like cash in your wallet -- and like cash, when it gets stolen, it's often gone for good. However, with a few key pieces of information, you stand a fighting chance of replacing your card.

Risk level: Medium. The good news is that a gift card doesn't reveal any private information about you -- other than the fact that you like, say, Old Navy -- and a thief can't get more money out of it than is already there. The downside: The cards can be tough to replace.

Who to contact: Call the bank that issued the card. We asked you to fill in the bank's phone number and your account number on the Wallet Recovery Kit form; now it's time to use them. And if you haven't filled them in yet, you can find them both online). Many reloadable prepaid cards are issued by Green Dot (866-795-7597). For gift cards, call or stop by the store where the card came from; if you've kept your receipt or registered the card online -- a service available with some retailers, including Starbucks -- you may be able to replace your stolen card. Did you use the card to make an online purchase? Your card data may be in your online account with the store. If so, either spend the card's balance before the thief has a chance to, or contact the retailer to let them know the original card was stolen.

What you should say: To report a stolen prepaid credit card, refer to your previously recorded data to find your account number. For a store gift card, show your receipt (or if you're on the phone, read your receipt number). Ask if the issuer can cancel your old card and replace it with a new one with your remaining balance on it.

What to expect: Without an account number, a receipt or online registration that lets the issuer track the card's balance, you're probably out of luck. But if you do have that info, the issuer should be able to mail you a new card or give you one in the store. You may be asked to pay a replacement fee, usually between $5 and $15.

What to do now: When you make a police report, be sure to mention the value of stolen gift cards or prepaid credit cards. Then sit tight until a new card arrives in the mail. If you can't get a replacement card, it's fine to be annoyed. Just remember to register all your prepaid cards, keep the receipts or write down the account numbers next time.

INSURANCE CARD

Intro: When trouble strikes -- a wreck, a medical emergency -- your health or car insurance card comes to the rescue. When they're missing, you may feel vulnerable, but remember that you're still insured -- and replacing the card is relatively pain-free.

Risk level: Medium. A thief equipped with your medical card may be able to get medical care in your name. You could end up getting billed for services you didn't receive, with collection notices on your credit for unpaid medical debt. You could even be denied insurance when making a legitimate claim because your coverage has been used up or your records show a pre-existing condition.

Who to contact: Call your insurance provider right away to prevent any kind of identity theft. You should have already recorded the phone number on the form we provided. If you haven't yet, you can find the phone number on your latest bill or on the provider's website.

What you should say: Let the provider know that your card has gone missing; you'll need your account number, which you can find on the form you've already filled out or on a bill or online. Ask your insurer to cancel the card right away and send a new one. If you have an insurance claim pending, let them know.

What to expect: While the customer service representative should be able to quickly cancel your card, it may take a week or two to get assigned a new insurance number. Ask the customer service rep for advice on how to handle doctor's appointments or car accidents in the meantime.

What to do now: Make sure you've written down the phone number of your insurer on our form. If you do need insurance before the new card arrives (in which case, you're having a really bad week!), the quickest thing to do is get your provider on the phone.

ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE CARD

Intro: When your car breaks down, your roadside assistance card, issued by companies such as AAA, gets you help fast. It's just as speedy at getting you back on the road when your card goes missing.

Risk level: Low
Unless the thief's getaway car gets a flat, he'll probably toss your roadside assistance card.

Who to contact: AAA, the largest roadside assistance company in America, is made up of regional clubs, so deal with your local office, either in person or on the phone. (You should've already recorded the number on one of our forms; if you haven't, you can find the number on your latest bill or online.) You can also order a replacement card on the Web.

What you should say: Let the representative know that your card was stolen. Be prepared to offer some basic identifying information, including your account number, then ask them to cancel the old card and send you a replacement.

What to expect: It should take just a few minutes to have a new card en route to you; it'll arrive in the mail within a week or two.

What to do now: Make sure you've written down the number of your roadside assistance company, along with your account number. Should you need help before your new card arrives, a quick call will do the trick.

MEMBERSHIP CARD

Intro: You love your local gym or warehouse store -- but you need your membership card to get in the door. Usually all it takes to get on the A-list again is a few errands.

Risk level: Low
Worried that the thief who stole your wallet will use your membership card to hit the treadmill at your gym? Explore the local art museum? Relax. While it's disturbing to consider how much a thief knows about your life now, membership cards likely aren't connected to your financial data, so their fraudulent use won't affect your bottom line.

Who to contact: It's not your top priority, but eventually you'll want to call the places where you're a member using the phone numbers that you've recorded on our forms. If you haven't recorded them yet, check their websites or any paperwork you might have from them. If possible, stop by in person. The process will be quicker, and you may be able to get a replacement card on the spot.

What you should say: Tell them your story: Your wallet was stolen, along with your Costco/museum/gym card, and you need a new one.

What to expect: You'll probably be asked to show some ID or verify your personal information, such as your address and how long you've been a member. In some cases, you may be asked to pay a nominal card replacement fee.

What to do now: If the organization can't issue you a new card on the spot, ask how to access your membership benefits while you wait for one to show up. You may need to flash another ID at the door for now.

SOCIAL SECURITY CARD

Intro: Your nine-digit Social Security card is the key to who you are, inextricably linked to your employment, tax, school, credit and medical history. Unfortunately, getting your Social Security card stolen is like issuing an open invitation to steal your identity.

Risk level: Extremely high.
Your Social Security card shouldn't be in your wallet in the first place. With your Social Security card, your credit card and your driver's license, a thief has the only tool needed to perpetrate some serious identity theft, such as opening up new credit card accounts, a cell phone line and even a mortgage in your name.

Who to contact: The Social Security administration recommends that you call one of the three credit bureaus: Equifax (800-525-6285), TransUnion (800-680-7289) or Experian (888-397-3742) right away. The one you call is required to notify the others.

What you should say: Let the credit bureau know that your Social Security card has been stolen and ask the representative to put a 90-day Initial Security Alert on your account. That notifies potential creditors of the danger of fraud, making it more difficult for anyone to get credit in your name (including you). That credit bureau will automatically pass along your request to the other two.

What to expect: If you know your Social Security number -- and if you've recorded it on our forms, that should be the case -- you may not need an actual physical card right now. But if you decide to replace the stolen card, you'll need to fill out an application and take it, along with some identifying documents, to your local Social Security office (http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/383/) to get a new card. Complicating your situation is that if most of your IDs went the way of your wallet, you'll need to rummage up some form of identification, such as a birth certificate, health insurance card, military ID, a passport, employee ID badge, a certified medical record or school transcript or a life insurance policy. (http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/2281)

What to do now: Until you've been the victim of some serious identity theft, the Social Security Administration won't consider issuing you a new Social Security number; even then, it's not recommended, since your current number links to everything from your credit history to your medical records to your taxes. For now, all you can do is sit and wait -- and keep a close eye on your credit with monthly checks of your credit report.

DRIVER'S LICENSE

Intro: Your driver's license doesn't just make it legal for you to get behind the wheel, it's the standard-issue photo ID that you need to get a job, write a check and buy beer. Replacing it is straightforward, but be prepared to wait in line.

Risk level: Medium
If you're worried that the thief will use your license to hit the liquor store, think bigger. The real problem is that with your driver's license, a thief can punch in the right address when she uses your credit card, apply for new credit and even impersonate you at the doctor's office.

Who to contact: To replace your stolen card, you'll need to head to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (or the equivalent). Online, search for "driver's license" and the name of your state to find a list of the identifying documents you need, such as a Social Security card, passport or birth certificate, as well as where to go. You may be able to fill out or download the necessary forms online, too.

What you should say: Report your license as stolen or lost, and ask to get a new one. Chances are you'll be issued a replacement license, but not a new number. In many states, you can change your driver's license number only if you can prove, with a police report or court file, that the old number was used for identity theft. Ask about putting a "Verify ID" flag on your license. If the thief is pulled over, he'll have to show additional forms of ID. (Same goes for you, too.)

What to expect: You may have to wait a few hours (sigh), but if you came with the right documentation, you should be able to leave with at least a temporary paper license. You'll probably also have to pay a replacement fee of between $5 and $25.

What to do now: Keep an eye on your mailbox; if your new license hasn't arrived in 30 days, call back to make sure it hasn't been stolen -- another common form of identity theft. Keep a close eye on your credit report for any signs that the thief is using your ID to open new lines of credit. You may even consider buying a copy of your driving record in the next six to 12 months to see if your license shows tickets that were not issued to you.

POLICE BADGE

Intro: Let's be honest: The police probably won't get your stolen wallet back for you. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't call them. Filing a police report is your way of documenting the theft, and it's often necessary if you want to contest fraudulent charges with your credit card company or prove that you're the victim of identity theft. And it's not nearly as scary as it sounds.

Who to contact: Squelch the urge to call 911; this isn't that kind of emergency. But you should contact the police within a day of the theft, or in the first few hours if possible. In many larger cities, you can call 311 and ask to be connected to the police. Otherwise, get the number for your local police department off of the form that you wrote it on. If you haven't done that yet, search for the name of your city plus "police department." Some departments have theft or fraud divisions, but you can simply call the main switchboard and explain your situation.

What you should say: Tell the police officer that you'd like to report a theft, then explain where, when and how your wallet was stolen. Before you call, write down details about the appearance of your wallet or purse, the address of where it was stolen, the contents of your wallet and how much everything was worth. You may want to make contact with your credit card company and bank first. If the thief has already made fraudulent charges, that information should go in your police report.

What to expect: The police officer will assign you a case file. Write the number on one of the forms we’ve provided, because you'll need it to complete paperwork from your credit card company, bank and other institutions. You may be contacted in the future for more details.

What to do now: Keep an eye on your credit report. If you see signs of identity theft beyond fraudulent purchases on your credit card, you can file an identity theft complaint with the FTC (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/filing-a-report.html), then take your report to your local police department to file an identity theft report. That entitles you to certain legal rights, such as blocking fraudulent information from your credit report or requesting information about the thief's illegal transactions.

See related: 10 things that you should know about ID theft, Identity theft sample letters, Four keys to credit, debit card zero liability policies, When you should, shouldn't give out your Social Security number, Lost your credit card? Your credit report can help

Updated: June 3, 2014


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