This past weekend, I went to New York City with my friend Susan for our annual girl’s weekend away. We ate in lots of wonderful restaurants, shopped a bit, went to see a Broadway show, and basically just left the to-do lists and regular responsibilities behind.

You'd think I would have returned relaxed from a trip like that, and things were looking good until I got off the train to head home. As the New Jersey Transit train pulled away from the tracks to head to its next stop, I realized I had left my handbag on the train. Susan and I raced down to the ticket booth to see if they could call the train and have someone look for it. The man in the booth called, said it would be looked for, took my phone number, and told me it would be a while.

On the car ride back to my house, I immediately phoned my bank and my credit card company to report my cards lost. I wasn’t willing to wait for the phone call from New Jersey Transit to see if my bag had been found. It would take someone five minutes with my credit cards and their cellphone to place an order online for something before they even stepped foot off the train.

I knew I needed to replace my driver’s license and my insurance card, but I spent time investigating what else should be done when you lose your wallet. It turns out, there are several things I hadn’t thought of, especially the steps to help prevent identify theft.

If you lose your wallet or it gets stolen, after reporting all your debit and credit cards as lost, do the following as soon as possible.

  • File a police report. I was advised to file a report with both the New Jersey Transit Police and my local police department. This isn’t just to report the wallet missing or stolen. It’s also to have a police report in case someone tries to steal your identity. If they succeed in taking credit out in your name or even using one of your credit cards, a police report will help prove that your information was taken.
  • File a 90-day fraud alert with the three major credit reporting agencies. When you file a fraud report with Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, if someone (including you) attempts to use credit under your name, you will be contacted. It could actually make getting credit more difficult during the time the fraud alert is active, but it's better to fill out a few extra pieces of paper to get yourself a new car than to live with someone taking credit out in your name.
  • Call your insurance company to get a replacement medical insurance card.
  • Get a new driver’s license as soon as possible. You aren’t supposed to drive without your license on you.
  • Consider changing the locks to your home if you lost your keys as well. Think about it. Your name, address, credit cards and other personal information are in your wallet. Whoever finds it will know exactly where you live and have a key to get in.
  • Think about all the other things that were in your wallet. If your social security card was in the wallet (you shouldn’t keep it there, but some people do), contact the Social Security Administration and ask them what to do. I had one card in my wallet that one of my best friends who is a police officer gave me that identifies me as someone he vouches for. I needed to let him know I lost it, and that someone may try to use that card with his name on it. Most people are bound to have something unique in their wallets that they need to think about.
Once you’ve taken care of that first line of defense, there are some other things you should do within a few days of losing your wallet.
  • Change any direct payments that are taken from your credit or debit cards. If you have bills charged regularly to them like Netflix or EZPass for tolls, make sure you change the card information online with the companies.
  • In about a week, request your credit report. Make sure that no one has tried to take out credit in your name.
  • Replace things like your library card, gym membership card and any other cards that were lost.
Note: In between writing and posting this, I got a phone call from New Jersey Transit saying my handbag had been found – two days later. Everything but the cash was still there. I don’t regret doing everything I did to protect my identity and myself, even though everything was returned. It took some time, but when it comes to something like this, it’s much better to be safe than sorry.

Can you think of anything I forgot to do after I lost my wallet?

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

How to protect your identity when you lose your wallet
Steps to take immediately after losing your wallet to protect your money, your identity, and your credit.