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Security Tips

Lost Your Wallet?

Most cases of identity theft start with the theft of a wallet or purse. If yours is lost or stolen, do you know how to minimize the damage?

  • Report the theft immediately to credit and charge card issuers. Look for a toll-free number in your billing statement, or it may be printed on the back of the card. Your liability is limited to a maximum of $50 per card on any unauthorized charges, but many issuers waive this. Your homeowners insurance may cover any loss. Continue to monitor statements carefully, and notify issuers if unauthorized charges show up.
  • Call your financial institution to report lost checks as well as ATM and debit cards. Your liability on ATM and debit cards is different than credit cards and can cost more. Although most issuers waive the fees, federal law limits liability to a maximum of $50 if you report the loss of theft within two business days. After two business days, however, and within 60 days from the date your statement is mailed, your liability jumps to $500 per card. After that, you're on your own. All losses, including any line of credit associated with the cards, may become your responsibility. So call the issuer the moment you discover loss or theft.
  • Call one of the credit bureaus' fraud units

    Experian 888-397-3742
    Equifax 800-525-6285
    TransUnion 800-888-4213

    Each fraud unit will share the information with the other two units. They will place a fraud alert on your file for 90 days, and you may choose to put an extended alert on your report, which will remain for seven years. If there's enough information--such as a Social Security card--in your wallet to open credit accounts, opt for the extended alert. The bureaus will send you a free copy of your credit report within seven to 10 days. Then continue to check your credit report by taking advantage of free reports annually from each of the three major credit reporting agencies as mandated by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (www.annualcreditreport.com).

  • File a police report. Keep copies to prove that unauthorized charges don't belong to you and you're not liable for them.
  • Call the Federal Trade Commission at 877-IDTHEFT. Trained counselors are available to talk to you and assess your situation. Visit the FTC's Web site at and fill out the ID Theft Affidavit; make copies for creditors if unauthorized credit lines are opened in your name.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration, especially if your Social Security card was in the stolen wallet.
  • Contact all other creditors. Close all affected accounts, follow each conversation with a letter, and keep a copy for your records.

Plan ahead for this unpleasant occurrence and save yourself lots of time and money:

  1. Carry only the credit and charge cards you need and keep others in a safe place until you need them.
  2. Keep card numbers, expiration dates, and telephone numbers handy--but not in your wallet--to quickly notify card issuers if a loss or theft occurs.
  3. Don't carry your Social Security card with you unless you need it that day. If your medical card has your Social Security number printed on it, ask the insurance carrier if a card without that number can be issued instead.
  4. Make a photocopy of the contents of your wallet and keep it in a safe place. Many victims can't remember all the contents when a loss or theft occurs.
  5. Don't have your Social Security number preprinted on your checks or listed on your driver's license.
  6. Memorize your PINs; don't write them on your card or in your address book. And don't use the last four digits of your Social Security number as your PIN.

Check out BALANCE Financial Fitness for additional preventative measures you can take to substantially reduce the chance of identity theft occurring, as well as steps to recover from any damage if you are a victim.

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