CONSUMER FORUM

What to do when you lose your wallet

Posted June 10, 2012, at 3:59 p.m.

You’re having one of those days when you don’t think things could get any worse. Then, you realize you don’t have your wallet.

Whether it was lost or stolen, it’s now gone, along with whatever cash was in it and a number of other items. Those are the focus of this article; much of the following information comes from www.creditcards.com, a website allowing customers to search for and compare credit card offers.

Deal immediately with any credit cards that were in the wallet. If a thief took it, he or she won’t hesitate to forge your signature. That’s the bad news; the good news is your losses, if any, are limited by law, as long as you report the loss promptly.

Call your credit card company right away; if you had not written down the account number somewhere (more on this later), you can find the number on your most recent statement or go online, searching for the card company name and “report stolen card.” Since most companies have fraud detection specialists at work, you may actually hear from them before you realize the card is missing.

Give the representative your account number and the time frame the card went missing. If you didn’t write down your account number, you will have to answer some questions about your financial life to prove you are who you say you are. Then the customer service person will check recent account activity and ask you if the charges were really yours.

If your card has been used without your authorization, you’ll need to fill out a fraud report; that will require a police case number, so report the loss to your local department as well. Whether it’s been misused or not, the company will likely cancel the card and issue you a new one. Any reward points should be transferred to that new card.

Next, you’ll need to remove the stolen card’s data from any online accounts or automatic bill paying programs. A new card should arrive in the mail in about a week; until then, you’ll need to rely on checks or another card you may have.

Most steps are the same in the case of a missing debit card, except you report the loss to your bank. Liability limits are a bit different, too. Report the loss within two days and you’re liable for up to $50 of fraudulent purchases; after two days you may have to pay up to $500, although the bank may forgive all or part of that amount; it’s worth asking.

Your driver’s license is another high-risk document; with it, a thief can give a correct address when using your stolen cards and apply for new credit. Report the loss to the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles. You’ll need some identifying documents (birth certificate, passport, etc.) and documents proving your legal residence to apply for a replacement license; an online search can help you determine what you need.

Losing your Social Security card poses the greatest risk; with that number, a thief can be well on the way to stealing your identity. For that reason, DO NOT carry it routinely in your wallet.

Prepaid gift/credit cards, insurance cards and roadside assistance cards represent other, lower-risk losses. These should be reported, even if you’re not expecting to lose money as a direct result of the loss of a card.

Earlier we talked about writing down card information, and the reasons are pretty clear; replacing lost items takes time, and having your information organized where you can find it makes the process easier. Get forms for recording that data and other helpful tips at www.creditcards.com. If you don’t have a computer, a friend or relative can print the forms for you.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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