Monday, September 29, 2008

Prepare and Plan -- What To Do Before Your Wallet or Purse is Lost or Stolen

This has to be one of the worst feelings imaginable. I have never lost a wallet. And I have never had a credit card stolen. However, I have had a credit card number compromised. It's a pretty helpless feeling (aside from being a royal pain in the ass to deal with). Still, I only had a number compromised; I could not imagine having a wallet or purse stolen. I imagine it doesn't get much worse. Most stories tend to focus on what you do after you've lost your wallet or purse (and all of your credit cards). Today's story addresses the things you should do before it ever happens.

I believe, though I have no proof, that most people do not memorize all of their card numbers. Ditto the phone numbers to their credit card companies. I haven't memorized any of that information either. No matter. What I have done is taken a picture (close-ups) of each of my cards -- both front and back. I've put these pictures on a 2GB memory stick, which I have hidden in my house. Only my wife and I know where the memory stick is.

Assuming that my wallet is ever stolen, and I am not far from my house, I will be able to bolt home and pull the memory stick out of its hiding place. I will then be able to quickly call of the creditors that need to be called. Lately, I have been thinking about carrying the memory stick with me (with the hope that I could plug my memory stick into a nearby computer (at a store, for example). Since I can now encrypt the files on the memory stick, I'm not so worried about keeping it in my front pocket. To this point, though, I haven't been brave enough to try it yet. I may in the future. Until then, it remains in the house.

If I am not near my house, I carry a small piece of paper on me (at all times) with all of my creditors' phone numbers. It's very simple. Creditor name (Citibank) and phone number (800-950-5114). That's it. Nothing more. In a pinch, I can quickly call of them and notify them that my wallet has been stolen. Even if I do not have the card numbers on me, I will be able to verify myself by giving the customer-service representative personal information over the phone that will prove who I am. We can then cancel the cards.

As for the other important information in my wallet, I have recorded that stuff as well. I have a backup of everything that I carry on a daily basis. Which reminds me. Many of us are carrying far too many cards in our wallets and purses on a daily basis. Fact is, I use one or two cards a day -- tops. Why do I need to carry ten cards in my wallet? It makes more sense to simply carry a primary card and a few backups at most. The rest should stay home -- in a safe place. The practice of leaving your cards at home will mitigate any damage that would occur if your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. (Also, stop carrying your social-security cards on you. Please. I see a lot of people carrying social-security cards on them. Don't.)

In addition to recording all of my vital information, I also have a file where I keep my user names and passwords. I do not have any passwords sitting around my office. I now use Locknote to secure this text file. With Locknote, I now feel secure leaving my login information on my computer.

In the event that your credit cards are stolen, you might want to call the credit bureaus. It might be smart to put a credit freeze or fraud alert on each of your credit reports at that point. Also, be sure to watch your online accounts like a hawk.

By the way, it's true that your monetary liability is $50 for purchases that are made before you report the cards lost or stolen (and it's $0 for purchases after you've reported the card lost or stolen). But that's not the problem. The problem with lost and stolen cards is often the amount of time spent dealing with the fraudulent purchases that take place on the card. You'll have to submit fraud affidavits to your card company saying that you did not make the purchases in question. Indeed, when my BMW Visa card number got compromised in 2006, it took months of back-and-forth correspondence between me and BMW before I finally got the situation squared away. And that was just one card. Imagine if you had to deal with a half dozen! Therefore, the faster you can get your cards reported stolen or lost, the less time you'll spend later on trying to resolve issues. In other words, it's a race. By being prepared, you'll have a jump on anyone who might want to use your cards fraudulently.

In the meantime, here are some key numbers just in case you lose any of your cards.


  • Experian: 888-397-3742

  • Equifax: 888-766-0008

  • TransUnion: 800-680-7289


  • American Express: 800-992-3404. Outside the United States, call collect 336-393-1111.

  • Bank of America: 800-732-9194. Outside the United States, call collect 302-738-5719.

  • Chase: 800-432-3117. From Outside the United States, call collect 302-594-8200.

  • Citibank: 800-950-5114. From Outside the United States, call collect 605-335-2222.

  • Discover: 800-347-2683. From Outside the United States, call collect 801-902-3100. Also, here is the Discover card lost and stolen checklist.

  • Federal Trade Commission's Lost or Stolen Information.


    Also, if your Social Security card is lost or stolen, you should request a new card here: How do I replace a lost Social Security card?.

    Remember: the Social Security Administration does not take reports of lost or stolen cards. The best you can do is simply request a replacement card.

    In addition to replacing your Social Security card, you should also read this information about identity theft and your Social Security card: Identity Theft And Your Social Security Number.

    If I didn't list the number for your card company, be sure to get it and write it down. Anyhow, you can store all of these phone numbers in your cell phone. Do that right now while it's fresh in your mind.

    Listen, I'm hoping that you'll never have your cards stolen or lost. But in case you do, be prepared. Take the necessary steps today to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible later.

    Prepare and plan. If you haven't already done so, start doing it today.

    Related Articles:

  • Have a Plan if You Want to Keep Your Scores High

  • If Your Relationship Ended Today, Would you be Prepared?

  • If you Don't Have a Credit Plan, You're Doing Something Wrong


Bob Wang said...

I'm going to print this article, shrink and carry IT ;-)

The Lion said...

This is a very good idea. I never even considered keeping pictures of cards...might give it a try.

I have had both my card numbers compromised as well as my card stolen. Neither one is a good feeling and it leaves you feeling rather vulnerable. I agree, with a good plan you can put that feeling to rest and be proactive to keep your finances (and identity) safe.

And I echo you, CM, DO NOT CARRY YOUR SS CARD! Why do you need it on you? Really?

The Lion said...

Beat me by 1 minute, Bob...punk...

Bob Wang said...

I typed less words :-)

The Lion said...

Now I know your secret...type it. :)

Credit Matters said...

You guys crack me up. I can always count on you two getting here first.

Bob, are you on my mailing list? Or you just hang out here just in case I publish something at midnight??

Hkbushido said...

The "what's in your wallet?" thread over at CB makes me cringe. I can't believe the number of cards that people carry around with them. When I was in college I can remember having all my cards on me and feeling mighty important and cool. But now that I'm in the real world I would feel stupid and at risk if I had more then 2 cards on me. One MA and one Visa. Forget Amex that don't count as a dependable card anymore :P

I also have all my CC CS# in my cell phone so I can call them whenever I need something, be it fraud or just a random question that I just came up with.

Another great post to bring awareness to an important aspect of credit

Credit Matters said...

Hk, thanks. I just updated the story to remind people to store all of these phone numbers in their cell phone.

Josh said...

What's the purpose of taking pictures of your credit cards? For dispute and identification purposes, there's no need for the actual card number.....

re: BMW disputes, they seem to be quite an annoying company to deal with. With BOA, when my card was charged fraudulently in a 15 minute phone call and one signed document I was done.

The Lion said...

Josh...shows you what you are missing. Say you have two cards issued by the same will want to know what the card number is so you can be specific.

Plus, just good record keeping.

Credit Matters said...

Josh, it's not enough if you have multiple cards with an issuer. You want to be precise. You need to know which card got lost.

Regarding BMW, yes, they can be quite annoying.

Still, to each their own. Be as thorough as me or not. We each have to manage our credit lives in the way that's best for us.

Nice seeing you, Josh. Hope school is going well.

Bob Wang said...

I have no life.
I just hang around here, awaiting enlightenment.

Bob Wang said...

Not entirely true.
I DO have a life.
And I was living it fully at CB when I saw you had a new article.

TheVibeRAIDER said...

Great idea about storing creditors' phone #s on the cell phone!

BTW, when we cancel a card in this situation, does that mean it's closed under the eyes of the credit bureaus, affecting our credit scores?

Anonymous said...

A side note about keeping the rest of your cards at home: You will still have an uncompromised card to use in the few days it takes to get your missing card issued with a new number.

On the memory stick idea. A micro SD card (the type that fits in a smart phone or cell phone) is way easier to hide and will most likely be assumed to be photos or music if it is found.

To Viberaider: You don't close the account - you just ask for a new CC number and cancel the old CC number, the account stays the same.

Lynn said...

Learned something new today. Something for my credit future.

Credit Matters said...

Lynn, glad that you learned something today. That's all I care about.

YOY said...

order copies of your birth certificates and other identification BEFORE you lose your photo ID, SS etc

and get a passport / passport card for ID purposes only if nothing else

I found out the hard way

you can't get ID without ID ! it's a crazy catch 22


Anonymous said...

great article! very helpful! a little off topic, but what is locknote?

Credit Matters said...

Locknote is a program (FREE) that encrypts text files, Anon.

Josh said...

Here's a link to LockNote for future reference:

Credit Matters said...

Thanks, J.

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