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November 18, 2018

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What to do if your purse or wallet is stolen

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With so many of us constantly on the go, it’s easy to let your purse or wallet overflow with important information and sensitive items, such as passports, checkbooks, Social Security cards, gift cards and more.

Thieves haven’t overlooked that fact. They know that if they’re able to snag a purse or wallet, there’s a good chance they’ll net something of value.

Purse and wallet snatchings are crimes of opportunity. The good news is, you can lower your risk significantly—and easily—by taking simple precautions.

When you realize it's gone, immediately take these steps

1. Be sure your wallet or purse really has been stolen. Check the nooks and crannies of your home, car and office, and call or visit places where you’ve recently been.

Pro tips

• Ask for any reward balances or miles to be transferred to your new accounts.

• Be sure to supply your new card information to any companies that process automatic withdrawals from your accounts.

2. Call your bank and credit card companies to report your cards lost or stolen. The companies will freeze your accounts and send you new cards with new account numbers. They’ll also review with you recent transactions to confirm that they were legit.

DO NOT cancel your credit cards. That will wreak havoc on your credit score.

3. File a police report. There’s only a slim chance the perpetrator will be caught, but having an official police report can protect you and provide evidence of the theft if irregular activity occurs on your accounts. Be sure to keep a copy of the police report.

Pro tip

You don’t need to call all three agencies, just one. By law, the agency you contact must notify the two other agencies.

4. Contact one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) to put a 90-day fraud alert or credit freeze on your accounts. Doing so will require new creditors to check with you, typically by phone, before a new line of credit is opened in your name.

5. Visit the DMV. Chances are, your driver’s license was in your wallet, and you’ll need a replacement. Request a new driver’s license number, not just a reprint.

6. If your keys were stolen, change your locks. It’s likely the thief has your address, making you an easy target for a break-in.

7. Think about the other items you had that need to be replaced or that link to your personal information—a work ID or badge, health insurance cards, library cards, frequent shopper cards. Thieves will go to great lengths to gather your private information, so it’s a good idea to let any institution with which you do business know that you could be a victim of identity theft.

Pro tip

Since each credit agency tracks the same information, stagger your requests so that you receive one credit report from each of the three bureaus every four months. That will allow you to check your credit more frequently without a fee.

8. Order credit reports. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three credit-reporting agencies. Be sure to monitor your reports for suspicious activity. To order your reports, visit annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228 or write to P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Georgia, 30348-5281.

9. File an FTC Identity Theft Report at identitytheft.gov. The report documents that you are a crime victim, have alerted law enforcement and are working to resolve the disruption.

10. Think long-term. Identity theft can happen months or even years after a purse or wallet was stolen. For an extra layer of protection, place a seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit report. Send a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report to each credit bureau to request that all potential creditors contact you before they issue credit in your name. In your letter, be sure to provide information about the best way for a creditor to reach you.

Pro tip

Experts recommend carrying a credit card rather than a debit card, as credit card companies typically freeze and refund fraudulent charges more quickly than banks.

Debit cards: Your liability

If you report your debit card missing within two business days, you are responsible only for a maximum of $50 of unauthorized purchases, and most banks will waive those charges. If you report your card missing after two business days but within two months, you could be responsible for up to $500 in fraudulent purchases. If you wait any longer than that, you’ll have to foot the entire bill, whether or not the charges were legit.

If your Social Security Card was stolen

• Inform the Social Security Administration right away. The agency won’t issue you a new number, but they will replace your Social Security Card. Also: Call the IRS Identity Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490.

• File the loss with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT.

• If you think a thief is using your Social Security number, call the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.

Especially for Nevadans

The Nevada Identity Theft Program was created by the state Legislature to help identity theft victims in the recovery process. The program provides victims a secured, personalized identification card that can be used to alert law enforcement and creditors about fraudulent activities. It also can help you avoid improper criminal charges if the thief is involved in illegal activities. For information, call 775-684-1100.

Reduce your risk

Best practices to prevent a theft

Use a purse with short straps so it hangs directly under your arm.

Or cross a long purse strap over your body with the bag hanging in front of you. Don’t carry your wallet in your back pocket or jacket pocket. Carry it in your front pocket or in an interior jacket pocket.

1. Travel light: Remove from your wallet or purse everything inessential. Think: Social Security card, gift cards, checkbooks, rewards cards, store-specific credit cards and other items you use only occasionally. Security experts recommend you carry only items that are immediately necessary.

2. Be proactive: Cancel all unused credit cards or bank accounts, and shred any associated cards or documents.

3. Make copies: Take digital images or make copies of the fronts and backs of all of the items in your wallet, and store the copies in a safe place at home. If your wallet is stolen or lost, you’ll have an inventory of what’s missing.

4. Be stealthy: Never store your PINs or passwords in your wallet or purse.

Tech to help

• Credit Karma is free. It's a credit monitoring service with real-time alerts about changes to your file

• LifeLock costs $10-$30 a month. It's a monitoring service that tracks your personal information to alert you to potential threats; also provides restoration services for victims of identity theft.

• LogDog is a free app (with in-app purchases). It scans for suspicious activity in online accounts and hunts for data that may have been stolen from you.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.