Nothing quite induces panic quicker than misplacing your wallet or credit card. Immediately, you launch into a necessary to-do list to protect your identity, minimize fraudulent charges and replace missing items.
Thankfully, losing a credit card is often more inconvenient than precarious, but it is still crucial to take these necessary steps.
At a Glance
- Retrace your steps—Go back to where you last used the card or accessed your wallet.
- Deactivate Your Card—Once you know that the card is missing, reach out to your credit card provider immediately to lock or deactivate your card.
- Request a Replacement—A new card will be sent to your billing address.
- Update Automatic Bill Pay—Update your credit card information for any auto payments you have set to bill to that card.
Retrace your Steps
In a moment of stress it can be easy to miss the obvious first step: Take a moment to go back to where you last used the card to determine if it was simply misplaced.
The mobile app for your credit card may allow you to lock the card while it is out of your control. A locked card will give you a greater sense of calm while you look for it. Once you find the card, keep an eye out for unauthorized transactions that may have occurred while the card was out of your possession.
If you identify any fraudulent charges, contact your card provider immediately.
Deactivate Your Card
If your card is lost or stolen, contact your credit card provider online, by phone or through its mobile app—as quickly as possible. Thankfully, many credit cards offer zero liability to their users protecting them from unauthorized purchases. If your card provider does not offer this protection the Fair Credit Billing Act still limits card liability to $50.
Reporting a lost debit card is especially important, as the liability protections are not as strong on debit cards as credit cards. Ideally, you should report the loss before any unauthorized purchase can be made. Otherwise, make sure to report it no more than 2 business days after you learn about the loss or theft.
Assuming you have not also lost your cell phone, you can use it to readily access your account and lock or deactivate your card.
Download the App
Many financial institutions offer mobile apps that increase your access to support in an emergency. The app can give you the freedom to lock your card if you misplaced it. This way when you find your card you can simply unlock or reactivate it.
If you know you’ve lost your card or it’s been stolen, you can report it through the app and request a new card be sent to you. In most cases, you already need to have an online account established to report a card lost or stolen via mobile app or online access.
Save the Customer Service Number
If you prefer to speak with a customer service representative or have limited online access, save the customer service phone numbers for each credit card and your bank in your phone contacts. Since it is unlikely you will have access to your lost card number, the customer service representative will ask for additional information such as your social security number, address and security question to verify your identity.
After Your Card Has Been Deactivated
Look Out for Replacement Cards
When you report a card as lost or stolen, your credit card company will deactivate or cancel your current credit card number. The card number previously assigned to you will no longer be active and you will be mailed a replacement credit card with a new number. It typically takes three to seven business days to receive a replacement card in the mail.
If you are traveling and need a replacement card while away from home, many credit card providers will expedite a card to you. If you are stranded without a credit card ask your card provider if overnight delivery is a service they offer. Some card providers offer this service free of charge.
Update Information for Automatic Payments
You will need to update any automatic bill payments to reflect the replacement card number. It is wise to keep a list of which payments are automatically billed to which credit card. If you do not know for certain if the lost card had recurring payments, review the last one to two months of statements to avoid late payment fees.
Future Card Statement Payments
Depending on your credit provider, your automatic payments may transfer over without any additional action. However, it is always wise to double-check that the payment processes smoothly on the first due date after you report the card lost or stolen.
Log into your account, make sure the replacement card has populated to your account, and make sure your new card is still set up for automatic payments. If it is not, you may want to pay the current bill and then set up autopay for future billing cycles.
If you make monthly payments, your card provider should appropriately apply any payments made through your usual payment method. If you pay online or through the app, you may notice that your old card is closed and the balance was transferred to the new card. If you mail your payments, you will begin to receive monthly billing statements for the new card.
A large stressor when you lose your wallet is the uncertainty of what you actually need to replace or cancel. In order to minimize your stress in the future, take some time to do the following.
Maintain an Accurate List
Keep an up-to-date list at home of specific cards you carry and the 24-hour customer service number for each card. Take a picture of the list, so you can review it while you are on the go. Also email the list to yourself so that you can still access it remotely, even if you lose your phone.
Don’t Carry All Your Cards
If you have several credit cards, not all of your cards need to be in your wallet. Prioritize the cards you choose to carry and leave the rest at home. If your wallet is lost, it is nice to have a card on hand to use while you wait for your replacement cards to arrive in the mail. While traveling, tuck an extra card in a separate, secure location, so you still have a payment method available.
Take advantage of mobile payment methods. Upload a unique credit card to your ApplePay, SamsungPay or another mobile wallet app. Leave the corresponding card at home so that even if your wallet is lost, this card will remain active.
Also, clean out your wallet every month or two to ensure you are only carrying the cards you need to have on you.
Know Your Card Benefits
Some cards offer free expedited delivery of replacement cards. In preparation for travel, determine which credit card offers the fastest, free card replacement. Knowing if you have a card providing overnight delivery will save time and money when reporting your lost cards.
If Your Wallet Was Stolen, File a Police Report
If your wallet was stolen, file a police report. While many primary credit cards offer zero liability coverage in the event of card theft, not all do. While the authorities are unlikely to search for your wallet, a police report will serve as future protection from liability for any fraudulent charges to your card.
Often the danger of losing your wallet is not in the loss of your cards, but in the increased vulnerability to identity theft. In the event of identity theft, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission. This process helps you construct a plan to notify businesses that your identity was stolen and informs you of your rights in the process. While a police report is not necessary, it will serve as further support to the Identity Theft Affidavit.
Preventing Identity Theft
Since your wallet contains your driver’s license, thieves gain access to your legal name, date of birth and address. To minimize additional risk, avoid carrying your Social Security card whenever possible.
You may also consider contacting the major credit reporting bureaus to set up an initial alert or a security freeze. An initial alert on your credit file notifies lenders of the possibility of nefarious action. Potential creditors are then encouraged to seek additional verification of your identity. This alert also entitles you to an additional free credit report from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.
If you prefer additional piece of mind, you can set a security freeze of your credit file. This action completely restricts the release of your credit file to potential lenders. If you are not actively opening credit lines, you can place a security freeze to lessen the likelihood a credit line could be opened.
You will need to keep track of these security freezes so that you can lift them in the future when you wish to seek credit again. Additionally, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warns that not all lenders consider a credit report before offering credit.
Finally, you can leave the heavy lifting to an identity theft protection insurance policy. Forbes Advisor has reviewed some of the major identity theft protection companies so you can help decide if purchasing a plan makes sense for you.