Photo: Steve Rhodes
After losing his wallet at a booze-soaked party, Zach McNees was convinced he’d never see it again. Two days later, a woman walking her dog approached him: “Are you Zach?”The wallet was miraculously returned. All that was missing was the cash.
Most of us have a “wallet story” to tell, but few have a happy ending. And while looking for the wallet is stressful enough, dealing with the aftermath—if there is one—can be worse. There’s identity theft and credit card fraud to contend with, not to mention straightening things out with your bank.
If you lose your wallet, can you protect your money? And should you offer a reward if it’s returned? We tapped Flexo, a consumer finance blogger at Consumerism Commentary, for his insight:
“Once you realise that your wallet’s gone and you’ve spent a little time searching and retracing your steps, you need to call the credit card companies and the banks right away to let them know,” he says. “If any charges come after that time you alert banks, you won’t be liable for them.”
And don’t put it off, warns Justine Rivero, credit advisor at Credit Karma. “The longer you wait to report any missing cards or compromised accounts, the longer your financial information and money can be abused through identity theft and credit card fraud,” she says.
After you’ve taken care of everything in the wallet, notify a credit bureau, says Rivero.
“A fraud alert on your credit report enforces that a lender or bank must contact you before reviewing your credit, and the alert can last for 90 days to seven years,” she says. “If an identity thief attempts to take out any credit in your name, you will be notified of the action before it happens. You can also activate a security freeze, which prevents all new inquiries on your credit. The only way for any credit to be taken out in your name is if you temporarily lift the security freeze, so it has stronger protection against potential identity theft and fraud.”
Finally, file a police report so you’ll have some legal protection just in case, both experts agree.
And as for the reward, you should use your best judgment.
“You can post a reward, but chances are the wallet’s not coming back,” Flexo says. “I would probably take out whatever cash was in the wallet and hand it to the person who returned it—but who knows what their story is.”
If you’re the forgetful type who’s prone to leaving purses on cars—true story—here are two extra tips to keep your wallet safe:
Make photocopies of everything so you can easily reference bank and card numbers. And leave everything you don’t need at home like cashiers’ checks, your Social Security card, and any evidence (i.e. receipts) from last night’s bar crawl. The same goes for cash you won’t spend and credit cards you won’t use. Only take what you’ll need day-to-day.