Key takeaways

  • Many banks and credit unions will let you lock your cards while you look for your wallet.
  • It's important to file a police report about your wallet – even though the police likely won't go search for it, this documents the incident and can serve as evidence if your identity is stolen.
  • Avoid carrying important documents such as your Social Security card and your birth certificate in your wallet – these are better off stored safely at home.

If you’re reading this article, it may be because you’ve fallen into an unfortunate situation — you’ve lost a wallet, or you can’t find a debit or credit card.

Don’t panic, though. While misplacing your wallet will create a lot of stress, you can easily protect your information before someone manages to rack up thousands of dollars of expenses in your name. Read on to learn what you need to do if you’ve lost your wallet and what you can do to prevent future troubles.

1. Lock your cards before searching

While you may not be able to get lost cash back, you can prevent a potential thief from spending with your debit or credit card by locking your cards.

One way to do this is by calling the card issuers and asking them to place a lock on the cards. While the lock is in place, the cards will be declined if used for purchases. Many institutions also allow you to do this through a mobile banking or credit card app. You can typically find a lock or freeze your card option directly in the app or under “manage your card.”

It’s a good idea to keep your cards locked while you search for your wallet. If you do find it, you can unlock the cards in the same way you locked them — by calling the issuer or doing so in the app.

Locking your cards, rather than canceling them right away, gives you the option to still use the same card if you do find it again. It also means you can unlock it to make any immediate, necessary purchases before you order a replacement card.

2. Replace your debit and credit cards

If you’ve searched every possible place where the wallet could have been misplaced and nothing turned up, it’s time to do more than lock the cards to prevent any of your personal information from being compromised.

Call the debit or credit card issuer of any card that was lost to cancel the card and order a replacement. Again, you may be able to do this through a mobile banking app or on the bank or credit card company’s website. Once you cancel the card, it will no longer be usable for spending.

Some financial institutions may have card-printing capabilities at their branches. Call your local branch to see if they can print a new debit card for you on the spot.

3. Change your account passwords

While you’re replacing your physical cards, it’s smart to take some extra precautions to manage your digital footprint, too. If someone has your wallet, they know your name and your credit card number, which means they’re just a few puzzle pieces away from figuring out how to get into your online accounts. It’s wise to change your passwords for any linked cards, and while you’re at it, you may want to take extra steps to protect your online profiles with social media companies and your email.

If you haven’t already enabled two-factor authentication, do that, too. This way, if a fraudster tries to access one of your accounts, you’ll put another hurdle in their way (as long as you didn’t lose your phone, too).

4. Contact police

Even if you don’t suspect that the wallet was stolen, filing a police report is an important step to take. Supposing that someone finds your wallet and brings it to the police, your contact information will be on hand so the wallet can be returned to you.

On the other hand, if there is theft involved, the police report can serve as evidence on your behalf in case you’re a victim of identity fraud. While there will be a police report on file, don’t expect the police to actually send out a call for a massive search. The police have bigger priorities than your misplaced personal belongings.

5. Replace your driver’s license

To replace your driver’s license (or non-driver ID card), you’ll need to get in touch with the Department of Motor Vehicles. In some states, you can order a replacement ID through the DMV website and receive it in the mail. The fee for a replacement ID typically ranges from $15 to $30.

6. Set up fraud alerts

Setting up fraud alerts means that you’ll be notified if someone tries to open up a credit card with your information. To do so, contact one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion), and the bureau is required by law to notify the other two of your requests.

It’s still important to continually monitor your credit, as well as monitor bank account transactions, for any suspicious activity. You can also enact a credit freeze, which will block lenders from viewing your credit report, so someone else would not be able to take out credit in your name.

7. Make a complete list of other missing items

Your driver’s license and your credit cards might be the first items on your list, but don’t forget to replace all your other information including:

  • Insurance cards: Insurance cards are relatively high priority, especially when it comes to medical insurance. You can contact a customer service representative for the insurance company to request a replacement card.
  • Membership cards: AAA, Costco, Sam’s Club – if you’re part of a club, you’ll want to contact any of those companies to get updated membership info.
  • Gift cards: If you received a gift card, you may be able to get it replaced and retrieve any remaining funds. For example, American Express will issue a new card. However, you’ll need to actually have the card info including the number and the security code to qualify.

How to pay for things when you’ve lost your wallet

Now that you’ve taken steps to protect your personal information, you may be waiting for a new debit or credit card to come in the mail and wondering how to pay for things in the meantime.

The simplest route would be to use a back-up card — but realistically, you might have kept all of your debit and credit cards in the wallet that was lost.

Most likely, you’ll have to take out cash. Without a debit card on hand, you can still get cash by going to your bank or credit union’s local branch and asking a teller to withdraw money from your account. Be sure to bring another form of ID such as a passport if you haven’t been able to get a replacement driver’s license yet.

Another option is to wire money to a transfer service such as Western Union or Wise. You can connect your bank account and use it to send money to a transfer service location near you. Then, pick up the money as cash or sometimes as a prepaid card. Just know that you’ll need a government ID to receive the money.

Finally, you can always ask for help from a friend or family member. You could try sending money to someone you trust via a peer-to-peer payment service, like Venmo, which can be linked to a bank account without a debit card. Then, the friend or relative can withdraw cash at an ATM on your behalf.

Consider taking steps to prevent future hassles

Losing a wallet and all that was inside it is time-consuming as well as a potential threat to your financial security. There are some things you can do now, however, to make it a bit less inconvenient if you lose a wallet in the future:

  • Limit what you keep in the wallet. Most important identifying documents (such as Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates) should stay at home. Also, consider which cards are most important to you and which you can leave at home.
  • Take a photo of or scan important items in your wallet, including driver’s license, debit cards and credit cards. This can make it much easier to replace the items that were lost.
  • Include contact information in your wallet so if a good Samaritan finds it, they can easily return it to you.

Can you track your wallet?

There are products designed to track your wallet – or anything, really – such as Tile and Pebblebee. Both of these companies manufacture cards that fit in your wallet and allow you to see the last location where you left it. Most have limited Bluetooth ranges between 200 and 500 feet, but some offer a proactive alert system that will notify you if you don’t have the wallet with you.

Bottom line

Losing your wallet can be a big hassle, but as long as you take action quickly, you can prevent losing money and protect your personal information from potential identity thieves. Make sure to track your bank account and credit card activity regularly so you can swiftly detect any unusual activity.

David McMillin contributed to an update to this article.