Your wallet was stolen. Now what?

By Emma Lunn

Having a wallet or handbag stolen is a double whammy. On top of the trauma of being the victim of crime, it can be an administrative nightmare. With your ID and your credit and debit cards in hand, a thief may be able to steal far more than the cash in your billfold.

Being prepared can make having your bag or wallet stolen less stressful and the impact less severe. Here's your stolen wallet battle plan.

Preparation helps for a quick reaction
Amid the stress of realizing your wallet is gone, you likely won't be able to remember everything that was in it. So take some time now to make a list of everything in your purse or wallet, as this will help you quickly report what's lost or stolen.

"It's a good idea to keep a record of your account information in a safe place at home, together with the emergency numbers for all of the cards you hold," says Neil Aitken of Financial Fraud Action UK. "All of your card issuers will have a 24-hour emergency contact number where you can report your cards lost or stolen.

As soon as your wallet goes missing, it's time to fly into action. First, call your banks. stolen-billfold

"As a rule, you should always prioritise cancelling your debit cards first, as unlike credit cards, you might be charged for any withdrawals or overdraft charges," says Raphael Lawson, head of claims and fraud strategy at life assistance business CPP. "Alternatively, if you have a card protection policy, call them immediately and they will cancel all your cards on your behalf.

Next up: Ring the police

"Once you have called your bank, report your wallet lost or stolen to your local police," Lawson says. "It may seem like a waste of time, but a police report will help you if you have to make any claim on your insurance, for example."
In the days and weeks following the theft, it's a good idea to keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements after your cards have been stolen and make sure no unfamiliar transactions appear. If any do, report them to your card company straight away.

If you are concerned that you could become vulnerable to identity fraud as a result of losing your wallet or purse, consider contacting CIFAS, the UK's Fraud Prevention Service, to apply for protective registration. Once you have registered, CIFAS members will carry out extra checks whenever anyone applies for a financial service using your address.

Can I get my money back?
Your cash in your billfold may be gone forever. But the good news is, if a thief manages to successfully use your bank cards, you have legal protection. Unless the bank can prove that you aided the fraudster or failed to exercise reasonable care (by leaving your bag unattended in public or storing your card's PIN in your wallet, for example), you should have your money refunded. One caveat -- the Lending Code dictates that, if any charges are made before you report the card lost or stolen, you will have to pay the first £50 of your losses.

What to never carry with you
You'll spend a lot less time dealing with the fallout of a stolen wallet if there's less for a thief to steal. So avoid leaving the following in your purse or wallet:

  • Credit and debit cards you don't plan to use: "Generally speaking, it can be a good idea to only carry the cards you need with you, as this will help minimise any disruption if your wallet or purse is lost or stolen," Aitken says.
  • Multiple forms of ID: A single form of ID is often necessary. But a passport, driving license and birth certificate? These can be tricky to replace if stolen. Plus, if they fall into the wrong hands, they can be used to steal your identity and open credit agreements in your name.
  • Your keys: Put these in a pocket, if possible. That way, a thief can't take everything in one smooth move -- and won't be able to use your keys to break into the address printed on your ID.

    "It is always best not to carry your keys in your purse or wallet," Lawson says. "It's bad enough that someone may end up with your cash, bank cards and personal identification items."

What to keep in a safe place
Reporting and replacing the contents of a stolen purse or wallet will be much easier if you have the following in a safe place.

  • Card numbers and the emergency number for each of your banks or credit card providers: Lawson recommends storing this information in your phone, so that you can go into action straight away.

    "This way, you won't have to wait until you get home to report your credit or debit cards lost or stolen," Lawson says. "Having the number handy in your mobile will ensure you can react quickly."

    Just make sure you also have the information written down in a safe place at home as well, in case the thief makes off with your phone, too.
  • Home insurance policy details: You could use your home insurance to make claims for other lost items such as your mobile phone, house keys or MP3 player.
  • Your mobile phone's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number: With smartphones becoming the norm, people are storing an ever increasing amount of financial information on their mobiles. So, if your phone gets stolen as well, it's vital that you prevent thieves from using it. The IMEI number (often located near the battery) will enable your network to identify and lock your phone.
  • Passport and driving licence photocopies: If the originals get stolen, having copies in a safe place at home will help you replace them more quickly.

See related: Stealing from children: Thieves prey on children's identities, Why you should never reuse credit card PINs


Published: 19 September 2012