Thursday, August 14, 2008

Don't Panic

Yesterday, at the Emerson College Cafe, someone swiped my wallet off the counter as I paid for my overpriced fruit cup. I didn't even notice, until nearly an hour later when I was thinking about purchasing a book at Borders on the other side of downtown. Naturally, I emptied my bag three times to make sure it wasn't hidden somewhere. And then, I acted fast. If you ever find yourself in the same situation, here's what to do:

Cancel any cards in your wallet

For me this meant my debit card and my credit card, and three store accounts too. You'll have to answer a lot of security questions so try to remember if your account password is your mother's maiden name or the name of your childhood pet. Also, if you don't have a cell phone (or it's been stolen too) and have no quarters for the pay phone (because your quarters were in your wallet), just go into the first store you see. Most places will gladly lend you a phone to call and cancel your cards. Another safe bet is a cellphone store; the display models are usually active. Cancel the cards and have new cards sent out. The card issuer can also flag the stolen card for possible use in catching the thief.

Report the theft to the police

Part of me feels that its silly to bother the police with a stolen wallet (which I should have kept my eye on), but really, you need to do this. If someone has put charges on your card, you will need a police report to send to your bank or credit card company to contest the charges. Besides, there's always the chance that the thief will be caught.

Check for charges

Have online banking? Check your account as soon as possible to figure out what the charges on. Call the police back and tell them where those charges were made, in case there are surveillance photos. Call your credit card company and ask for the last set of purchases made on the card. The more you know, the easier it will be to get everything straightened out.

Get a new license number

If you have your license stolen with the wallet, tell the RMV. They can flag your ID as a fraud risk to protect you from identity theft. If your social security number was in your wallet, call the Social Security Administration local branch to have that flagged for fraud too. When they reissue your license, get a new picture taken and ask for a state generated ID number.

Ask for help

A long while ago my debit card (just that) was swiped, and I was left with nothing to pay my rent. Even though I was newly out on my own and trying to prove myself, I recognized that I was in over my head and asked my parents for a loan. I earned big bonus points by paying it back the minute the matter was settled with the bank. If you're in a jam and not prepared to ask your family or friends, call your bank; they will often help you with your cash flow issues (but make sure they have the police report!).

Be prepared

It can happen to anyone, but you can be prepared for this sort of emergency. Keep a small stash of cash in the house, so that when your cards are all canceled and your transit pass is gone you will have something to purchase bus fare with. Write down the toll free service numbers from the back of your cards so you won't waste time looking them up.

Hopefully this will never happen to you. I'm taking it as a learning experience and sharing what I've picked up. If you have any other helpful advice, be sure to leave it in the comments.

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