Thief Snagged Her Wallet, So She Immediately Took These 8 Steps

Wallet on seat of car with shattered glass.
juefraphoto/Getty Images

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.