Chante Griffin - The Penny Hoarder

I did something stupid a few weeks ago; I left my wallet in the car. I knew that it wasn’t a good idea, but my hands were full with two coffees, so I hid it in a compartment in the car. “I can just grab it in the morning,” I told myself.

The following morning, I realized somebody else had grabbed it. The thief dismantled the car’s alarm system and feasted on the contents of my wallet, which included cash, debit cards, a credit card and my driver’s license.

Besides feeling violated, I was also suddenly unable to do a host of things: drive legally, prove my identity or even buy a latte to soothe my emotions. I didn’t realize the role my wallet played in me being a functioning member of society until it was gone. Its loss left me helpless and vulnerable.

I wouldn’t wish this scenario on anyone, not even the thief who stole my wallet. But should you find yourself walletless one day, I made a list of what to do.

8 Steps to Recovering From a Stolen or Lost Wallet

If you ever find yourself in the undesirable predicament of being walletless, here are the steps to take to regain control of your life.

1. File a police report

You will need to create an official record of the incident -- yes, even if it was just lost. Not only will it alert the local authorities of your missing property in case they come across it, but it will be helpful later should you need to prove the loss to your bank or another institution.

So, get it on the record!

2. Report Lost Cards to Financial Institutions

Do this ASAP! Remember to include all personal and business credit and debit cards you kept in your wallet.

By the time I reported my debit card as stolen, the thieves had already charged nearly $100 in fast food purchases and attempted to make a major purchase online. Most financial institutions offer protection to cover these charges, plus they’ll typically send replacement cards within two weeks.

3. Get Access to Cash

You will need it to make purchases until you receive a new debit card. So, don’t be shy -- borrow some cash from a friend or loved one.

In some cases, your bank might allow you to withdraw a couple hundred dollars as a courtesy if you present an expired or secondary form of ID. (See No. 5 for more details.)

4. Get to the DMV, Stat!

Either make an appointment beforehand or simply walk into a local DMV to get your replacement driver’s license or ID card.

Each state’s DMV may vary in its process, but expect to fill out a form, pay a fee (See the importance of Step 3?) and present a valid government-issued ID, like a current U.S. passport book or card, a U.S. Citizen Identification Card or a Permanent Resident card. If you have none of these forms of ID, you may be able to use a few other forms, like an original or certified copy of a birth certificate, social security card, or Medicare or Medicaid card.

Replacement processes vary from state to state, as some will provide a replacement card on the spot, while others, like my DMV, issue a temporary paper ID with your driver’s license number on it. My temporary ID allowed me to drive legally until my replacement card arrived in the mail. I also used this as proof of identity to show my bank, which allowed me to complete the next step.

5. Get a Temporary Debit Card

Your bank can provide this only after you present a valid, government-issued ID or one to two forms of a secondary ID, such as current vehicle registration, current utility bill, an AARP card or social security card.

Different banks have varying policies, so you may want to call ahead to find out what you need.

6. Replace all Medical Insurance Cards

You will need to contact your health provider for these if you don’t have copies at home.

7. Brainstorm

What other cards were stolen along with your wallet? Do you have a public transit card? A union card? A dusty library card?

When I realized the thief had my library card, I reported it to the library (just in case the thieves have a thing for used books and are part of an elaborate underground book-selling ring).

My library replaced the card and waived the replacement fee when I presented a valid ID and a police report verifying my library card was stolen. (Thank you Los Angeles County!) Your library may do the same, so I suggest calling ahead to find out.

8. Create a Wallet-Loss Preparedness Kit

This will ensure you have everything you need to quickly put together a replacement wallet if yours ever disappears again.

In her former life, Chanté Griffin taught kids how to make and manage money as the director for a financial literacy non-profit. Today, she teaches herself how to make and manage money as a freelance writer and actor.

Trust me. You don’t want to get caught unprepared.

Someone stole my wallet a few weeks ago. I felt violated on multiple levels. There was the loss of my sense of physical safety, the loss of my bank cards and cash, the loss of my only valid form of ID and the loss of the sense of security that these things brought.

Just as disruptive were the time and energy it would take to replace everything.

Once I collected myself from the initial shock, which may or may not have involved tears and tissue, I did what I do best -- I made a list. I listed everything I needed to do and in what order.

This list lengthened with each day as I realized how much the theft impacted my life, financial and otherwise. I lamented. Why wasn’t I prepared for this?

Why hadn’t I prepared for the worst and assembled a wallet loss preparedness kit, like the earthquake preparedness kits my elementary school teacher had our entire class create?

So consider this my gift to you: A handy guide to creating your very own wallet loss preparedness kit. I hope you never need it, but it’s nice to have should you find yourself walletless one day.

1. Make a List of All the Places Linked to Your Bank Card

This list might include:

  • Automatic bill pay for phone, car, insurance, home expenses, cable, etc.
  • Car and rideshare services
  • Annual renewals for web hosting, memberships and magazines
  • Subscription services for clothes, food, etc.
  • Music streaming and data-storing services

If you don’t trust your memory, check your bank statements for recurring payments.

I bank online, so I logged in to my spending report and typed, “recurring” in the search box, which highlighted all of my recurring payments in yellow. Another option is to review the detailed year-end spending report many financial institutions provide or check your cell phone for apps linked to your cards.

2. Be Able to Prove You Are You

With a valid, government-issued photo ID, you can replace anything you lost and prove to institutions you are who you say you are. Be sure to keep a current state ID or a current U.S. passport outside your wallet in case you need to prove your identity. Other forms of ID that help include a social security card, a certified copy of your birth certificate, a current vehicle registration and voter registration card.

Don’t be like me and try to convince the security guards at CBS television and the personnel at Wells Fargo that you are you by showing them your website. It doesn’t work.

3. Protect Your Medical Info

Most of us keep our medical cards in our wallets so they are easily accessible in an emergency. Make sure to keep extra copies of your medical cards someplace safe at home. You can easily obtain copies by either requesting them from your healthcare provider online or daring to call customer service.

Please note that cards usually take up to 10 business days to arrive in the mail. If you need them sooner, some companies allow you to print temporary cards via their online systems, while others will simply tell you your ID number over the phone (after you’ve answered a series of security questions).

4. Make a List of Everything in Your Wallet

That’s worth repeating: Make a list of everything in your wallet. If you want to be an overachiever, make a copy of everything in your wallet. Update this list regularly, either quarterly or monthly.

It’s as easy as taking pictures of your wallet’s contents with your cell phone and making sure they’re backed up on the cloud (Google Drive, Office 360, etc.) or keeping the physical copies someplace safe in your house. Hint: your mattress is not a safe place, but a locked, fireproof box tucked away in your garage might be.

5. Keep Financial Info Handy

Make sure you have the contact information and account numbers for all of your financial institutions in a safe place at home, on your computer or in the cloud. You will need access to this information to get replacement cards and keep your accounts protected.

6. Research Fraud-Protection Services

Many auto clubs and financial institutions offer their customers these services for free or at reduced rates. They alert you of fraud and help you protect your identity and finances in the event of theft.

You can also try credit monitoring sites, like Credit Sesame. They will alert you if anyone attempts to open a new account in your name, and you can track your credit card balances.

7. Create an Emergency Cash Stash

Did you know that 28% of Americans don’t have an emergency fund? Don’t be another statistic, especially in the event of an emergency. Find a safe place, like the aforementioned locked, fireproof box, to keep cash or a prepaid card with money on it. This will ensure you have immediate access to money if you lose your wallet.

Congratulate yourself for being proactive with your financial health and security. You’re the Jean-Claude Van Damme of financial security! (Yes, the comparison is cheesy, and yes, I just dated myself.)

In her former life, Chanté Griffin taught kids how to make and manage money as the director for a financial literacy non-profit. Today, she teaches herself how to make and manage money as a freelance writer and actor.