Has this ever happened to you? You are in a rush. You run out the door with your belongings, jump into the car, and then you realize you left that all-important-something in the house. Rather than lock the car while you run into the house for “just a second”, you leave it unlocked (maybe with the motor running) with your pocketbook and other belongings on the seat or floorboard. You think, “What could possibly happen in just a few seconds?”
After 25 seconds (a personal best) you return to your car and head into the sunset…or morning traffic. When you arrive at your destination, your attention turns to your “stuff”. While gathering everything it hits you. Your mind races as you retrace your steps. Keys – check. Sunglasses – check. All-important-item-you-almost-forgot – check. Where is your handbag or wallet? A personal best or not, 25 seconds was long enough for someone to seize the opportunity to acquire a new bag or wallet along with everything in it. This very scenario happened to me. It is not a moment easily forgotten.
Now what? The moment you make the discovery you need to spring into action without panicking. Swift action at this point will help minimize your vulnerability. We hope the following list and action items will help keep your identity and valuables safer and make reporting your loss easier.
- Call the police and change the locks. If you lost your house keys along with anything revealing your home address (E.g. driver’s license or auto insurance card), the second call to make is to a locksmith. If you realize the theft and you are not at home, send a family member or friend to meet the locksmith while you make the police report.
- Inventory the contents of your purse or wallet. Most likely you will write everything down for the police to keep on record. This includes any valuables that are lost, including your purse or wallet. This list will be helpful as you follow the next steps in the notification process.
- Alert your financial institution(s) and credit card companies*. Call each company starting with your bank or credit union to alert them of the theft. Contact each issuer of any credit cards that are stolen. *When this happened to me, I was grateful for online banking! Each creditor’s contact information was stored in my online bill pay portal.
- Check for unauthorized activity. Take the opportunity to check with your financial institution and credit card companies to ensure no new activity has occurred without your authorization. Report any fraud activity you may find right then and there.
- File a "Fraud Alert" with the credit bureaus. As long as you contact one of the three credit-reporting bureaus−TransUnion, Equifax and Experian− the other two will be notified.
- Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles. To report a stolen driver's license, notify the motor vehicles department for your state. Beware of unofficial websites that claim to provide the service(s) you need. The department contact information you need is found by following the link above sponsored by usa.gov.
- Notify the Social Security Office. If for some reason your Social Security card is not at home for safe-keeping, and it has been stolen, you can get a new card but not a new Social Security Number (SSN). Your SSN is used for acquiring credit cards, personal and auto loans, insurance, etc. The best action is to notify one of the credit-reporting bureaus (covered above in #4).
If your SSN is used to open new credit, the fraud alert serves as a safeguard for 90 days. Any company checking your credit for a new account is required to contact you to ensure you are the person opening the account or loan. Note: You can renew the fraud alert every 90 days.
The same is true for stolen Medicare cards. Go online or call the National Social Security Hotline to request a replacement card.
The next phone calls are less critical. However, they are important and need your attention after the aforementioned action items are complete. How would you feel if someone else began using your gym membership or used your reward points at your favorite restaurant or department store? We encourage you to take all steps possible to protect your identity.
- Insurance companies: health, auto, home, life
- Human Resources Department: employee ID, security badge, parking permit, keys to the office, work cell phone, etc.
- Rewards cards: department stores, restaurants, boutiques, car washes, etc.
- Memberships: health clubs, vitamin stores, community or college libraries, etc.
If you are tech savvy you may keep memberships and ID cards stored in a “digital vault” on your mobile phone. If this describes you, you may have saved yourself time. Unfortunately, yours truly carried every card ever assigned to me (except for my social security card) at the time my purse was lifted. Spending several hours on the phone that cannot be recouped can be easily prevented. Here is what we mean…
- Lighten the Load. The easiest was to protect yourself and your identity from would-be thieves, is to carry less. Aside from playing it smart and keeping your purse or wallet in your possession, avoid carrying these items with you.
- Social Security Card
- Birth Certificate
- Spare keys (home, cars, office, etc.)
- Credit cards not used on a regular basis (carry one card if you can)
- ID and/or security badge (anything that grants secure access)
- Cashier’s check
- If you can think of others, leave them in the comments below.
- Make copies. Photocopy the front and back of each sensitive item you regularly carry. Store copies in a safe place such as a locked file cabinet, fire-proof safe or a rented safety deposit box from your financial institution. Having a back-up copy provides peace of mind should you ever need the information. Another option is to scan and save the copies to an external hard drive. Be sure to save them to a second location such as a secure cloud server should you choose not to go the photocopy route.
- Monitor your accounts. Even though you have placed a 90-day fraud alert on your credit report and you will likely renew the fraud alert after 90 days, continue to visually monitor your bank and credit card accounts. Technology makes it more convenient to monitor accounts real-time. No need to wait for monthly paper statements to reconcile your accounts. With 24/7 online banking and online statement access to credit accounts, plan to check your accounts weekly during the first 90-day period. Remember to also check your credit report for unauthorized activity.
It is stressful to have your personal information stolen. Luckily there are ways to lessen the harm thieves intend to cause. Put these steps into action and beat them at their own game!