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7 things to do when you lose your wallet

Phone, keys, wallet.

Maybe you say this refrain to yourself each time you leave the house. But sometimes, life happens and your wallet goes missing.

If you've lost your wallet, take a deep breath. Then follow these steps to protect your accounts and move forward with peace of mind.

Take these steps to protect your accounts

1. Call your bank and credit card companies.

As soon as you realize your wallet is missing, call your banks and credit card companies, or report missing cards online or through their app. Your financial institutions can suspend or cancel missing cards and help keep an eye out for any fraudulent activity.

The sooner you report lost or missing cards, the better: Federal law protects consumers against unauthorized transactions if you report the missing credit or debit cards before fraudulent charges occur. If you wait too long, you could be on the hook for someone else's spending spree, depending on the situation.

2. Create a fraud alert.

Once you've taken care of freezing or canceling your cards, reach out to credit agencies to alert them to potential fraud.

The major credit agencies—including Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—make it easy for consumers to create fraud alerts online. These alerts let credit agencies know to keep an eye out for fraudulent attempts to open accounts in your name. If someone does try to obtain credit in your name, creditors and lenders will generally reach out to you first to make sure it was you who initiated the request.

Alerts usually expire after one year, unless you set up an extended alert that lasts for up to seven years. You can remove the alert from your account at any time.

3. Set up a credit freeze.

If you're concerned about someone pretending to be you to open new accounts, place a credit freeze on your credit reports. A freeze prevents lenders and creditors from accessing your credit history, which makes it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name—creditors are unlikely to approve a request if they can't view the applicant's credit history.

It's free to set up both fraud alerts and credit freezes, and neither will impact your credit score.

4. Consider paying for a credit monitoring service.

You can subscribe to a credit monitoring service for a monthly or annual fee to keep a close eye on your credit after a wallet goes missing. These services might be especially valuable at a time when you could be more vulnerable to fraud or identity theft.

In addition to offering extra surveillance, monitoring services may also offer personalized recommendations and tools to help you boost your credit score. They can also help you gain insight into your score's fluctuations.

Before you start paying for a monitoring service, see if any of your banks or credit cards offer free monitoring services within your existing accounts. Some credit card companies provide built-in monitoring tools within their online banking websites or mobile banking apps.

5. Contact the DMV or Social Security office.

If you keep your driver's license, Social Security card, or other government identification in your wallet, you'll want to move swiftly to replace those key documents.

For a lost driver's license, contact your state's DMV to confirm the steps and paperwork required to get a duplicate license. You can check online or call your local branch to make sure you have your documents in order (pro tip: do this before you arrive in person!)

For a lost Social Security card, you may not need a new one right away: A replacement card isn't strictly necessary if you know your number by heart, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration.

If you would like a replacement card, contact your local Social Security Office or initiate the process online. If you're worried that someone is using your Social Security number to work or collect your tax return, reach out to the Internal Revenue Service.

6. Get new insurance cards.

If your medical, prescription, dental, vision or other insurance cards always live in your wallet, don't forget to reach out to your insurance companies to request new cards. Some insurers let you print a new card yourself from an online dashboard; others might take a few days to send a replacement in the mail.

It's also a good idea to keep an eye on your medical bills and explanations of benefits to ensure nobody attempts to fraudulently use your health insurance.

7. Contact the police—even if your wallet wasn't stolen.

If someone steals your wallet, be sure to file a police report—this can become especially useful if a thief attempts to use your credit cards or steal your identity. A police report could serve as valuable evidence to show that you weren't responsible for the fraudulent activity.

Even if you don't think your wallet was stolen, it's a good idea to notify the nearest police station. You never know: A Good Samaritan could come across your missing valuables and turn them over to the police.

Find peace of mind after a lost or stolen wallet

Whether your wallet is simply MIA or it was stolen, the experience can be unnerving—but it doesn't have to derail you.

By acting quickly to notify financial institutions, monitor your credit, obtain new insurance cards and contact local authorities, you can move forward feeling calm and confident.

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