Losing a wallet can be nerve-racking, but having a plan for replacing the contents of your wallet can help make it a minor headache instead of a disaster. If you have the luxury of time, the first thing you should do is also the most obvious: retrace your steps, call any places you may have left it, and hope for a quick resolution. If you’re fairly certain your wallet is gone for good — or you’re not willing to risk the time it takes for a thorough search — it’s time to start the process of cancelling and replacing what you had. Let’s go through a step-by-step process for what you need to do about your missing IDs, credit cards, and membership cards.
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Know what’s in your wallet
Step zero should happen before you lose your wallet, which is to know what’s in there in case it is lost or stolen. Keep a digital copy of the contents of your wallet — including scans of the fronts and backs of my credit cards, debit cards, IDs, gym memberships, customer loyalty cards, health insurance cards, and so on. There might be a lot in your wallet, far more than you can actually recall from memory (you might, for example, have forgotten your library card, discount prescription card, dental insurance card, and museum memberships), so having a copy of what’s in there will keep you from the stress of relying on memory. Sort them together and take a few pictures or run them through a scanner. When the time comes, you’ll be happy you did, and the rest will be easier.
Cancel your credit and debit cards
Now it’s time to triage, which typically begins with handling your money. That means calling to cancel your financial cards. We’ve noted before that it’s a good idea to keep your credit card company’s phone number on hand, but it’s also easy to find online. If your wallet has been gone for long (or you’re not sure how long it’s been missing), you may want to speak with a representative to explain your situation and go over the last several transactions to make sure nobody has tried to use it.
Otherwise, you can use their app or automated service to freeze your card or cancel it altogether while they send you a new one. Pro-tip: Many banks offer expedited shipping so you can have your new card within a day or two; you only have to ask. Typically they’ll give you a shipping timeframe and ask if it works for you. If it does, great; if not, tell them you need it as soon as possible and take advantage of the courtesy expedited shipping.
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Call a Non-Emergency Helpline
Calling the police because you lost your wallet might feel like overkill, but it can be an essential step in fraud prevention. To be clear, the police won’t actually be able to do anything to recover your lost wallet, but a police report stating your wallet was lost or stolen can come in handy if someone tries to steal your identity, try out your credit cards, or nefariously use whatever else they find.
Update your subscriptions and online accounts
This one should also begin by making a list prior to needing it; automatic bill pay and subscription services are awesome until you lose a credit card and have to go through each of them to add your new information. If you lose your cards and have them replaced with new ones, you’ll need to update your accounts with your new card info.
If you have a list, great; if not, start with your most obvious bills — utilities, phone, internet — and work your way towards subscriptions and lesser-used accounts until you’ve hopefully covered most of your bases. It’s also worth thinking about any online purchases you may have made recently that haven’t gone through yet. If you pre-ordered something and your card won’t be charged until it’s shipped, you have to update your card number on the order. Take this opportunity to begin keeping a running list of all the sites, services, and subscriptions where you use your spending accounts so when the next time this happens, you’ll be ready.
Get a new drivers licence or ID
The least fun part about losing your wallet is replacing your ID. Nobody wants to spend a day at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Every state has a different policy for the steps you need to take, but don’t be surprised if you have to appear in person, file a police report, or pay a fee. You can find a list of the requirements for your state over at The Unofficial DMV Guide.
Replace your miscellaneous cards
After the more urgent cards — financial and identification — it’s time to the less-urgent-yet-still-important-enough ones: insurance cards, reward cards, retail cards, library cards, and everything else. Track down phone numbers or websites online, let them know about your wallet, and request a replacement. Even seemingly minor ones like library cards deserve some quick attention — the last thing you want in the mail is a bill for overdue library books you never checked out. While you’re working through your list, take this opportunity to clear the decks: if you don’t need them, cancel your unused accounts without replacing them.
Request a credit report and initiate a fraud alert
Even after you cancel your credit cards, it’s a good idea to request a credit report and put a fraud alert on your account if your wallet was missing for long. You can get your free credit report from Annual Credit Report and can start a fraud alert at Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax. The service is free and will monitor your credit for 90 days, so if you (or someone else) tries to set up a new account or take out a loan, you’ll be contacted to confirm it’s you.
It’s not a fun process, but if you take care of the above steps right away you can ensure your identity is safe and get your life back to normal quickly. Finally, of course, you’ll need to buy a new wallet.
This post was originally published in 2012 and updated in 2020 to provide more complete information and meet Lifehacker style guidelines.