Wallet / Purse Theft — What to Do

WHN TIP – Be Prepared! Download and complete our Purse or Wallet Theft Checklist so you know what you had inside if it goes “missing”!

WHN TIP – Advice from Experts: Listen to this podcast for tips on how to describe a suspect.


  1. Be safe, be smart.
  2. Be sure you are in safe surroundings. If you have a cell phone, call the police. Listen to the directions from the dispatch operator.
  3. Be ready to provide the following information:
    • Your name
    • Address
    • Phone number
    • What happened and where? Describe the event as briefly as possible and tell the dispatcher if the crime is in progress or when it occurred.
    • If you saw the perpetrator, did you recognize the person?

WHN TIP – Characteristics: It may be a difficult time to answer questions. However, if you did see a person in or around your home, correctly stating details like gender, age, height, weight, size, skin color, hair color, clothing, etc., could help speed up the process. Remember to mention unique characteristics as well (tattoos, piercings, glasses, etc.).

    • Which way did they go and how did they leave (on foot, by car)?
    • Describe the getaway vehicle, if there was one.
    • Describe the weapon the perpetrator had, if there was one.
  1. Wait for the officer to arrive or to call you back.
  2. When the officer arrives, he or she may ask you questions similar to those asked earlier. Please be patient so the officer can help you. Answer questions as best you can.
  3. Ask the police how to get a copy of the police report.
    • Note the name of the police officer who takes the report, your case number and the investigator (if any) assigned to it.
    • Officer Name/City/Dept
    • Case #
    • Phone number for police report at a later time
  4. Make an inventory list of the items in your purse, clutch, briefcase or wallet including credit cards, cell phone, PDA, etc.

WHN TIP – Keep It Safe: Keep a copy of your wallet’s inventory form in a safe place at home and at your office. Why? So you have the information on hand when you call credit card companies about the theft. It also helps jog your memory about what is in your wallet and purse.

At Home or Office

Make a “theft” folder and keep all related items in the folder.

  • Call your credit card companies, alert them to your stolen credit cards and cancel each card.

WHN TIP – Last Statement: Don’t have the number or your credit card information? Find your last credit card statement — the information should be listed on there.

WHN TIP – Liability: In the event of bogus charges on your accounts, your maximum liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50 per card. If you reported the loss before your credit card was used, the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized charges.

  • Call your bank and other financial institutions where you have accounts and alert them that there may be an attempt to fraudulently access your accounts.
    • Ask that they call you if anyone tries to access an account or open a new account in your name.
    • For checking accounts, also report it to the appropriate check verification companies. You’ll need to pinpoint the last check you wrote.
    • Ask for a new account number and password.

WHN TIP – Passwords: For important passwords, do not use your mother’s maiden name, old addresses, pet names, etc. Choose “strong” passwords, which means an alphanumeric combination — i.e. AG47KL9.

WHN TIP – Toll-Free: If you don’t have a phone list of financial institutions or credit card companies, call (800) 555-1212 to get the toll-free numbers of creditors with (800) lines.

  • Call one of the credit bureaus and have them put a fraud alert on your name. (As of April 2003, if you notify one of the bureaus and alert them that you are a victim of identity theft, they have to notify the other two.)
  • While you are on the phone with them:
    • Tell the representative you have had your card/account information stolen.
    • Request that your file is flagged with a fraud alert, which lasts 90–180 days depending on the agency.
      Why? The alert is basically a cautionary note that tells anyone checking your credit report that you may be the victim of identity theft and that the information in the report may need to be verified. It also makes it more difficult for someone to open an account in your name.
    • Ask if your state law allows you to place a “security freeze” on your credit report, meaning that nobody can access your credit history until you approve or “thaw” it.
    • Let them know you have contacted the police. Ask them if they’d like a copy of the police report and/or the report number and investigators’ contact information.
    • Ask that a credit report is sent to you. Each of the three bureaus should send you a free copy.
    • Fill out the FTC affidavit. The FTC ID Theft affidavit is designed to make it easier for fraud victims to report information. Click here to download the Federal Trade Commission’s affidavit; most creditors accept this form when resolving credit disputes. Check with yours.

WHN TIP – This Isn’t You: Even if a credit card wasn’t stolen, your ID or other identifying information can be used to open an account in your name. Every second counts.

  • A few days after the theft, contact the police department to check on the status of your case. Be sure to have your case number ready.
    • Ask to speak with the detective who is assigned to your case.
    • Introduce yourself, state your case number and when the theft took place.
    • Ask the detective about the status of your case. Is it open or closed?
    • If your case is open, ask if there are any possible suspects. Ask about the suspect’s details.
    • Also, ask if there is anything else that you can provide that could help the investigation.
    • Request a copy of the official police report for your records, if you haven’t already done so.
    • The police will do their best to follow up on the theft. However, it may not be possible to track down the perpetrator. Be patient.

Your IDs

Driver’s License

  1. You will need to change your driver’s license number if it is listed on stolen checks or being used for other types of fraud.
  2. Contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to learn if another license was issued in your name; if so, place a fraud alert on your license and fill out a DMV complaint form to begin the investigative process.

Social Security

  1. If your Social Security number was or might have been anywhere in your purse or wallet, call the Social Security Administration’s fraud line, (800) 269-0271.
  2. Even if you don’t carry your Social Security card with you, it may be the ID number on your health insurance card or other papers you might have had in your purse or wallet.
  3. For more information on Social Security fraud, visit the Social Security Administration fraud page.


  1. Whether you have a passport or not, write the State Department at the passport office to alert them to anyone who may order a passport fraudulently.
  2. Or call (877) 4USA-PPT [(877) 487-2778] for the passport office nearest you.

Cell Phone

  1. If you believe an identity thief is making calls from your cell phone or has opened a new account in your name, call to cancel the account.
    • If you don’t have their number on hand, call (800) 555-1212 to get their toll-free number, if they have one.
  2. Getting a new number? Provide a password that must be used for all changes to your cell, local and long distance companies.

Replacement of Valuables, Documents, and Records

WHN TIP – Timelines: The recovery process takes a lot of time. Be patient.

  1. Don’t be surprised if you remember additional items that were in your purse/wallet — when you do remember, add them to your list.
  2. Keep copies of all theft-related letters, receipts and documents you send and receive. Put these in your “theft” folder.
  3. Obtain a copy of the police report.
    • Why? You may need to provide copies, along with your investigator’s contact information to credit card companies, banks, insurance companies and others who require verification of your case.
  4. Check with your insurance company to see if any of these items are covered under your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy:
    • Cell phone
    • PDA
    • MP3
    • Planner
  5. In order to fully protect yourself, follow up with your credit and other financial institutions in writing or e-mail, explaining what happened and what you need them to do. Keep a paper copy of all e-mail correspondence.
  6. Send all theft-related documents via certified or return-receipt mail so you can track the process (Save receipts from the post office or delivery office. Expenses incurred may be tax-deductible; consult your accountant for more information).

Receiving and Reviewing Your Credit Reports

  1. Save all credit reports as part of your fraud documentation.
  2. Review your credit reports from each bureau.
    • Make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name.
    • If fraudulent accounts are listed on your report, ask the credit bureaus for names and phone numbers if this information is not included on the credit report.
  3. You may also ask the credit bureaus to notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months (money lenders, banks, credit card companies, etc.) that fraudulent information is on your report.

WHN TIP – Debt Collectors: For additional information on dealing with debt collectors, read Fact Sheet No. 116 of the Identity Theft Resource Center under “Victim Resources.”

Credit Card and Bank Statements

Review your statements carefully and compare each charge to your statement.

  1. If your existing accounts have been used fraudulently, get replacement cards with new account numbers.
  2. If there are unauthorized charges, send a letter to the appropriate financial institution describing each questionable charge.
  3. In the letter, remind the financial institution of the date your card, checks or other important information was lost or stolen and when you first reported the problem to them.
    • Be sure to send the letter to the address provided for billing errors.
    • Do not send your letter with a payment or to the address where you send your payments unless you are directed to do so.

WHN TIP – Unauthorized Charge Liability: In the event of bogus charges on your accounts, your maximum liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. If you reported the loss before your credit card was used, the FCBA (Fair Credit Billing Act) says the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized charges.

WHN TIP – 60 Days: You must report the error or unauthorized charge within 60 days after the company mailed the bill to you. The company must acknowledge the receipt of your letter within 30 days and must correct the error within 90 days or explain why it believes the statement is correct.

  • If you discover that an identity thief has changed the billing address on an existing credit card account, close the account.
  • When you open a new account, ask that a password is used before any inquiries or changes can be made on the account.

Ongoing: Reviewing Credit Reports

  1. Continue to keep an eye out for identity theft.
  2. Verify that your corrections and changes have been made and that there is no further fraudulent activity.
  3. In addition to accessing your credit report (ask each bureau how many free reports you qualify for – fraud victims may be able to receive extras), look out for:
    • Being denied a loan you qualify for
    • Being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high-interest rate, for no apparent reason
    • Bank statements that don’t agree with your personal records
    • Unexplained changes in your bank access codes
    • Missing credit card bills or other mail
    • Unusual calls regarding your personal or financial information
    • Unexplained charges on phone or other consumer accounts
    • Receiving credit cards that you didn’t apply for

WHN TIP – Fraud Alerts: Consider whether you’d like to remove or extend the fraud alert flag on your credit report file(s). A fraud alert on your file may make it difficult to access “instant credit.” For example, if you’re at a store and they offer 10 percent off your purchases that day if you apply and are approved for a store card on the spot, the alert may delay your qualification. If this convenience isn’t crucial, you may want to consider extending the alert.

Ongoing: Reviewing Credit Card and Bank Statements

  1. Review credit card statements and compare each charge to your receipts. If they show any unauthorized activity, send a letter to the card issuer that includes:
    • A description of each questionable charge
    • The date you first reported the problem (identity theft and/or a stolen wallet) to the card issuer, if applicable
  2. Request for copies of the documentation, such as the application and transaction records, showing the fraudulent transactions.
  3. For additional information on dealing with debt collectors, read Fact Sheet No. 116.

Down the Road: How to Protect Yourself

In a few weeks/months . . .

  1. Credit Reports
    • In a few months, order new copies of your credit reports. Verify that your corrections and changes have been made and that there is no further fraudulent activity. Verified fraud victims are entitled to occasional access. Ask if you can get the reports for free.
    • Consider whether you’d like to remove or extend the fraud alert flag on your credit report file(s).
    • If you decide to cancel the fraud alert on your file at the credit bureaus, you will have to follow the procedure outlined by each bureau. Throughout this process, refer to your account/credit report by the unique number assigned to it by the bureau. And always use certified return-receipt mail.
  2. Dealing with criminal concerns.

Remember …

The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal advice. These tips are from industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a lawyer or appropriate professional you trust before making any legal decisions.

Thank You …

A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, first responders and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.