What To Do When Your Wallet or Purse Is Stolen

Last Updated Feb 24, 2011 8:24 AM EST

Last week my sister stopped at a scenic spot in New York City to take a picture. She set her backpack down for a minute under her coat. Moments later, when she went to pick up her stuff, the backpack was gone.

Contents of the backpack:

Wallet with $150 cash, driver's license, and credit cards

Checkbook

Apartment keys

Magazine with her address on it

BlackBerry

Calendar

Running sneakers with custom-made orthotics

Workout clothes

Three iPods (Huh? How many ears ya got, sis?)

She immediately filed a police report, cancelled her credit cards, ATM card and checks. Her orthotics might have been the most dear to her, but those can be replaced. So can the iPods. But it will take a while for her to get rid of the lingering unease that her identity may be compromised. I spoke to Robert Rebhan, a financial crimes expert who used to work for the LAPD, about steps to take if your wallet or purse is stolen.

File a police report. "That's the platform everything else works from," Rebhan says. You have to have the report and a copy of it if crimes are committed in your name.

Change the locks. You've given up your keys and your address? Secure your home.

Notify the credit bureaus. Set up a fraud alert with the credit bureaus. Calling one of either Equifax, TransUnion or Experian is supposed to alert all three, but call all to be safe.

Close your bank account, and open a new one at a different bank. Stop payments are generally only good for six months. "Then criminals can start using those checks again," Rebhan says. "If you really want to be careful, I would close the account and reopen an account with a different bank. The criminals have enough information about you to start working the system, so they can get more information from bank tellers and maybe even tap into a new account that you open at that bank." Scary stuff, but better safe.

Keep good notes. You have to be your own fraud investigator, Rebhan says. Keep a record of everyone you speak to, the date and time of the call and the substance of the conversation. If your identity is compromised down the line, you'll have notes to refer to.

Don't stuff your new wallet. Rebhan carries two credit cards, his driver's license and his Triple A card. He doesn't use an ATM card, because skimming devices are too sophisticated. Leave the health care cards at home until the day you have a doctor's appointment.

Any other tips for dealing with a lost or stolen wallet or purse? Please sign in and share them below.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Valerie Renee, CC 2.0
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