Credit & Debt

My Wallet Was Stolen. Now What?

Act quickly to prevent fraudulent charges on your accounts and to protect your identity.

My wallet was stolen a few days ago. My driver's license was in it. I canceled all my cards immediately when I found out. I've been checking my accounts daily to make sure that there are no fraudulent charges. What is the best way to check that my identity has not been stolen or that there are no accounts opened in my name?

I'm sorry to hear about your stolen wallet. It sounds like you've made some good first steps.

It's important to notify your credit-card companies and bank immediately and to monitor your accounts for fraudulent charges. Also watch your credit reports to make sure that an ID thief doesn't open new accounts in your name.

The best way to do that is to contact the credit bureaus to make a fraud alert, which will require lenders to make some effort to verify your identity before issuing new credit in your name. The fraud alert also gives you a free copy of your credit report from each of the three bureaus. Order those copies and review them for any suspicious activity -- including accounts you didn't open, as well as strange addresses or activity on old cards, which can provide clues that a thief has your information.

It can take a while before an identity thief strikes, so it's important to continue to monitor your accounts and credit reports. An initial fraud alert lasts for only 90 days, but you can get an extended fraud alert if you have a police report documenting the stolen wallet.

This extended alert stays on your report for up to seven years and entitles you to two free credit reports from each of the bureaus every year (in addition to the free reports that everyone can get every year). To file a fraud alert, contact one of the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion), which will alert the other two.

To be even more safe, you might want to put a credit freeze on your account, which won't let any new lenders see your credit report unless you specifically give them permission. Credit freezes can be expensive ($10 for each of the three bureaus to initiate the freeze and have it lifted -- and it's only effective if you do all three). Many states offer free freezes for victims of identity theft.

Still, the freeze can be a hassle if you're planning on taking out a loan soon. Depending on the state, it can take from 15 minutes to three days to lift the freeze. But it does offer even stronger protection than a fraud alert. See my column for more information about fraud alerts and credit freezes.

For more advice about what to do if your wallet is stolen, including a detailed checklist of steps to take, see the Identity Theft Resource Center's fact sheet, My Wallet or PDA Was Stolen, Now What? Also see the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft page for more information and advice.

For tips on preventing ID theft, see Your ID Theft Prevention Kit.

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