Is there anything scarier than losing your wallet in a foreign destination? Imagine reaching into your pocket or purse and finding that it’s gone. If you’re like most Americans, your wallet is essential to everyday life. But now your ID, credit cards, and cash have all been lost in the blink of an eye. When a wallet is stolen or lost, all kinds of problems arise. Some can be resolved by a simple phone call while others can ruin your dream vacation and cause a financial nightmare.
Recently, I lost my wallet while traveling in Tokyo. I had been shopping in the city’s famed Shibuya district and went to grab my wallet in the front pocket of my jeans — and it was gone. Immediately panic set in, sweat started to drip from my forehead, and I felt disoriented.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, it’s important to not lose hope. The first thing you should do is try to determine whether you simply misplaced it or if it was stolen. Could you have left your wallet somewhere? Retrace your steps and try to remember whether it’s possible that you set your wallet down and forgot it or if it might have slipped from your pocket or purse.
Get in Touch with Your Bank
If you’ve determined that you’ve lost your wallet or that it’s been stolen, the first thing you need to do is notify your bank and credit card companies. Call the 24-hour emergency number for your bank and credit card company. It’s always a good idea to have these numbers handy when traveling for these types of emergency situations. Enter the number into your phone or write it on a document of important numbers that you keep in your luggage. If you don’t have the numbers, go to your bank or credit card company’s website to get it.
While you’re on the phone, your bank and credit card company should go over the last few transactions that have been made to see if anyone has tried to use the card. You want to be timely about notifying your bank because if you report that your card has been lost before someone unauthorized uses it, you have zero liability. If you report the card as lost or stolen within two business days after you learn it is missing, you’re liable to pay a maximum of $50 for unauthorized charges. However, reporting your card as stolen or lost after more than two business days — but less than 60 calendar days after your statement has been sent to you — means you could lose up to $500 for charges you didn’t make. After 60 days, reporting a lost card means you will lose all the money taken from your account and possibly more if your debit card account is linked to other accounts.
In the case of your credit card, you pay nothing if you report the card as lost before it has been used without your authorization. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you’re liable for up to $50 if it’s used before you notify your credit card company.
Cover your Bases, Talk to the Authorities
Once you have called your bank and credit card companies to cancel your cards, the institutions should issue you brand new numbers. While you are on the phone with you bank, you might ask whether the institution can send you an emergency cash advance if you anticipate having issues accessing money. After you’ve cancelled your cards, it’s a good idea to file a police report for fraud prevention. Filing a police report in a foreign country might be difficult if you don’t speak the native language. I didn’t speak a lick of Japanese, for instance, but there might be someone on staff to help translate for you. While the police won’t be able to find your wallet, you will be able to get a police report, which is useful if someone attempts to steal your identity.
Hopefully, your passport hasn’t been lost along with your wallet. If it has, you need to get it replaced ASAP. Locate the U.S. embassy in the country you’re visiting and let them know you have an emergency. The embassy should be able to help you replace your passport and assuage your concerns about money by putting you in touch with someone from home who can wire your funds. If your Social Security card was in your wallet, next time you’ll think twice before storing it in there. You will have to call your local Social Security Administration and explain your situation.
Store some Backup Funds
If your lost wallet is the only source of money you have, well, next time save some cash in your hotel’s safe or hidden somewhere in your luggage. If you had traveler’s checks in your wallet, call the emergency number on your purchase agreement form and report the checks as missing. As long as you have complied with the issuer’s terms and conditions you should be able to get a refund.
You might run into problems if the issuer suspects you of committing fraud or fail to report adequate information. In these cases, the issuer might launch an investigation, delaying your ability to get a replacement check. A more likely scenario, though, is your issuer will give instructions on how to replace the checks. Some companies might be able to get you new checks within 24 hours (unless you’re visiting a remote destination). If you don’t have your issuer’s number on hand, go to its website to get the number.
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Call Home for Help
If you had cash in the wallet, you’ve just lost out on all that money. Hopefully you were only carrying enough to use that day and not a large amount. You can try getting a cash advance from your bank or credit card, but there might be hefty fees for doing so. Most likely what you will end up doing is asking someone back home to send you money. Whether you use a money transfer operator, an online service, or a foreign exchange broker, it will cost some money — so be sure to tell your sender to ask about fees and include an ample amount of money to help you get through the rest of your vacation.
Next, if you have traveler’s insurance, report the loss or theft of your wallet as soon as possible. Your policy likely has a limit about reporting lost or stolen money, so be sure to check the terms and conditions of your policy.
Try to Relax
Once you’ve taken care of those matters — get a drink if you can afford it. Losing your wallet can take a lot out of you. While you’re enjoying your drink, make a list of other items or cards that were lost along with your wallet. Insurance cards, health cards, rewards cards, membership cards, retail cards, library cards — write down everything. If any of these cards might be used by a thief and cost you money now or down the road, you’ll need to track down the right number to call and let the institution know your card has been lost or stolen.
Once you return home, you should head to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get a new state ID. You should also request a free credit report and put a fraud alert on your account. You’re entitled to a free credit report each year and can put a free 90-day fraud alert on your credit file, which prompts lenders to take additional steps to verify an applicant’s identity if they apply for credit. Start the fraud alerts at Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion.
After all of that, you’re still not done. Sorry, we’ve got more fun tasks for you to complete. You will have to go through and list all the accounts and services linked to any account whose numbers have now changed. So take a look at utilities that are paid automatically and subscription services — be sure to update those numbers so you continue to pay your bills on time.
Now that you’ve gone through that process, you should be OK. You might have lost old pictures or gift cards, but chalk it up as a loss and try to remember the fun things about your trip abroad. On a positive note, you have now learned a very valuable lesson about things you should do the next time you lose your wallet.
Oh, and by the way, I found my wallet at a department store I had been shopping in — the cashier had kept it safe for me. Panic had set in for about 10 minutes, and then relief when it was back in my hands. At least I know what to do should I ever lose my wallet while traveling.
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