Quin Ryan was doing a good deed by driving her niece to daycare. Grabbing only the toddler and an umbrella, she entered the school, returning to her car in less than seven minutes to discover her driver-side window smashed and her purse, left on the seat, gone. Out of pocket: $2,500.
Drugs, desperation, and easy prey embolden even petty thieves to stake out places like daycare centers and gyms with their harried customers. We’ve all been drilled on protecting our online identities. But what happens when crooks filch your purse or wallet?
Step #1. Don’t panic. Ryan rushed back into the daycare, called police, and then borrowed a phone and computer. In 20 minutes she had cancelled credit and debit cards, closed her bank account, and put a fraud alert on her credit report, all before police arrived. Staying calm is key says Denise Richardson, a certified identity theft/risk management specialist. “Stop. Sit down and think about what was stolen and what private information it might contain,” she says. “Try to write down everything taken.”
Step #2. Call police. File a report immediately. Get a copy or at least the report number. You’ll need it for insurance purposes and some agencies will require it as proof of theft. Don’t worry if you can’t recall every item lost, you can always amend your report via phone or mail. More departments now even use online systems for adding supplemental information.
Step #3. Contact your bank and credit card issuers. The faster the better. Especially if you lost a checkbook or ATM debit card. In Ryan’s case, she not only had to open a new bank account, but change all her online automated payment to creditors.
Step #4. Check nearby trash and dumpsters. Some thieves quickly discard what they don’t want. When A.J. Dax was mugged it was one month before her police department casually asked why she hadn’t stopped by to pick up her purse, which had been turned in the day after the incident.
Step #5. Notify credit reporting agencies. File a fraud alert with the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian (888-397-3742), Transunion (800-680-7289) or Equifax (800-525-6285). It tells anyone checking your history for credit or a loan that your identity may have been stolen. An initial alert stays on your credit report for at least 90 days, but you can extend it up to seven years. The good news: An alert to one company covers all three.
Step #6. Suspend cell phone service. As Ryan bemoans, “I bought an iPhone on Friday, it was gone on Monday.” Your cell provider can deactivate the stolen SIM card and shut off voice mail access. The bad guys may have your phone, but they can’t use it on your tab. Another issue — so-called “smartphones” that may contain contact information for friends and family, birthdates, even passwords to bank accounts. Password protect or “lock” your phone.
Step #7. Put your home under lockdown. Figure if thieves got any identifying information they now know where you live. If you are out-of-town, alert neighbors and local police to your situation. Keys stolen? Don’t stay at home until you can change the locks. Was your garage door opener taken? Unplug the motorized door system, or disable the remote feature on the garage motor housing. You will have to reprogram any additional remotes, but the stolen one will not activate the door. Burglars can access the unlock feature of a remote door opener, so lock the door by installing a zip tie on the bar. Call your manufacturer if you need information. One tip: talk to a locksmith. It’s often cheaper to have your lock cylinders retooled for a different key than to replace all the locks.
Step #8. Get a new driver’s license. Ask your local Department of Motor Vehicles for replacement procedures. Bring a photo ID accepted by your state, such as a passport. If thieves get your Social Security card, or anything with your SS# on it, contact the Social Security Administration so no one can tap into your benefits.
Step #9. Take your medicine seriously. Many of us carry our health insurance ID and/or prescription medicine? Call your health care provider and pharmacy. Crooks won’t think twice about using your insurance for medical services or try to pry private information out of some unwitting clerk.
Step #10. Cancel innocuous cards. Library cards and video store membership cards can be used without ID, leaving you subject to fees. Warehouse club cards from Sam’s Club, B.J.’s or Costco sometimes are tied to a credit account or may be used online to make purchases. Even loyalty or rewards cards for favorite stores, restaurants, airlines, hotels, and other businesses can be problematic if they are attached to your name and address or a legitimate email address.
Bottom line: be prepared. The Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft website is an excellent resource chock full of practical advice. “Bad guys are good at what they do. A stolen wallet or purse is a gold mine,” says Richardson. “Look at each item you carry as a bit of information that a bad guy can string to another bit of information and finally piece together your identity.” The less you carry, the less you have to lose.
More information on theft protection:
- Get a free credit report and ID theft protection
- Guide to protecting yourself from ID theft
- Let your bank warn you of trouble