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What to Do If Your Wallet or Purse Is Lost or Stolen

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One day I was walking down the street minding my own business when a kid ran toward me and grabbed my purse off my shoulder. I tried to hold on to it, but he shoved me off and jumped into a waiting car, which took off down the street.

As I turned around and walked empty-handed toward the police station, there were two thoughts uppermost in my mind. The first was the license number of the car, which I kept repeating to myself because I had no way of writing it down. The other was what a huge hassle that one moment of inattention was about to cause me.

I’m one of those people who keeps her whole life in her purse. My wallet was loaded up with my driver’s license, insurance cards, library card, credit cards, checkbook, cash, and various store loyalty cards. The purse also contained my house and car keys, plus dozens of other items I carry every day, so I can be prepared for anything. Every single one of those items would need to be replaced.

Over the next several days, I spent a lot of time talking to many different people about this crime. I had to deal with the police, my bank, my health insurer, my car dealership, and the Department of Motor Vehicles. Eventually, I managed to report all my losses and replace everything I absolutely needed, but it was a long and grueling process.

If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to experience what I did. But if you ever do, knowing what to expect will make the process a lot easier. Here’s a summary of everything I had to do to recover from the robbery, and some tips for anyone in the same situation.

File a Police Report

The first thing to do if you lose your wallet or purse is to call the police – or go straight to the police station if it’s nearby and report the crime. The sooner you can give the police all the information you have about the crime, the better their chances will be for catching the criminals. Plus, you’ll need to have a record of the theft in order to claim any losses on your insurance or dispute fraudulent credit card charges with your bank.

Expect to spend a couple of hours with the police providing details of the crime. Here are some things the officers will want to know:

  • What Happened. The first thing the police will want to know is exactly how your wallet or purse was stolen. That tells them what kind of crime they need to put in their report. For instance, if your pocket was picked or your purse was taken from your car, that’s a burglary. If you were mugged at knifepoint, that’s an armed robbery. In my case, my purse was snatched away by force, so it was a “strong-arm robbery.” And since I fell and hurt my hand when the thief pushed me, it was a “strong-arm robbery with injury.”
  • When and Where it Happened. Next, they’ll want to know where and when the crime took place. Try to make a note of these details before you talk to them. When my purse was snatched, I was so focused on remembering the license number of the car that I forgot to note exactly where I was when the crime occurred. The detective had to take me out in a police car and cruise the neighborhood until we passed the spot that I thought was the scene of the robbery, and even then, I wasn’t 100% sure. I could have saved a lot of time if I’d simply checked the location before heading to the police station.
  • What Was Stolen. Tell the police, as best you can remember, what was in your wallet or purse when it was taken. The cops spent at least ten minutes with me writing down everything I could think of that was in my purse, including a description of the purse itself and its estimated value. That way, if they found any of my stuff discarded or sold by the thieves, they would be able to identify it and possibly get a clue to the thieves’ whereabouts.
  • A Description of the Criminal. If you saw the person who took your wallet or purse, give the police the most accurate description you can. If you can’t talk to the police right away, then try to write down everything you can remember about the person’s appearance while the memory is still fresh. Along with basic details like age, gender, height, weight, and race, try to remember if the person had any distinctive features, such as visible scars, tattoos, or an unusual way of walking. If you heard the thief’s voice, describe that as well.

After you’ve spoken with the police, they’ll write up a report of the crime. Make sure to get the number of this report and, if possible, a hard copy of it. You’ll need this information when dealing with your insurance company, banks, and anyone else you work with to report and replace your lost items. The detective in charge of my case gave me several copies of the report to give to anyone I might deal with. The report served as “official documentation” of the crime and included an incident number and the detective’s phone number.

Report and Replace Lost Items

If you’re like me, you carry a lot of different items in your wallet or purse. All of those will need to be replaced eventually, but your top priority should be all of the official documents you were carrying: your driver’s license or ID, credit cards, health insurance cards, and so on. You need to report these items missing as soon as possible – not just to replace them, but also to stop the thief from using them.

When you talk to banks and other official agencies, offer them a copy of the police report or the report number, if you have it. Some businesses will actually waive their usual fees for replacing lost items if you can prove you were the victim of a theft. Even if they won’t, it’s often useful for them to have that information on file.

Debit Cards

Call your bank immediately. The faster you report a stolen debit card, the lower the chances that the thief will be able to use it to make purchases with your money. If you’re able to report the loss before the thief uses the card, you won’t have to pay for any false charges, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). However, even if the thief has already used the card, you won’t be liable for more than $50 as long as you report the loss within two days.

You can find contact information for your bank on your statement or on the bank’s website. Even if the bank is closed when you call, it should be possible to report the loss through the bank’s automated system so the card will be canceled right away. Some banks will also let you file a lost-card report through their website or banking app.

After notifying your bank by phone, the FTC recommends following up with a letter or e-mail to the bank. Provide details about the theft, including your account number, when you noticed the loss, and when you reported it to the police. Ask for a return receipt on your letter or e-mail, and keep a copy for your files. Having this report on record protects you in case the bank tries to claim that you failed to report the theft.

Many banks will let you order a new debit or ATM card over the phone when you file your initial report. However, the new card can take up to a week to arrive, unless you’re willing to pay extra for rush delivery. Even if you don’t request rush delivery, some banks will still charge you a lost card fee to replace the card. However, you might be able to get this fee waived by giving the police report number to prove the card was stolen.

Some banks won’t issue a new debit card by phone. They might require you to come down to a branch in person and present ID to prove your ownership of the account before they’ll give you a new card, which is a problem if your ID was in the wallet that was stolen. Fortunately, I happened to have an old expired passport at home and was able to show this to the bank as an ID. Technically, they shouldn’t have accepted an expired passport, but the bank agent kindly agreed not mention the age of the passport in her report so that she could give me a new card that day.

If you don’t have an alternate ID at home, try going to the DMV to request a free photo ID for “voting purposes.” You can then use that ID to get a new debit card. Also, be aware that if you have a joint bank account, it may be necessary for both parties to go to the bank together and replace the card.

Credit Cards

Next on your list is to contact your credit card issuers. These aren’t quite as urgent as your debit card because if a thief uses your credit card to make purchases, you can always dispute the charges when you get the bill. However, if a thief uses your debit card, the money comes out of your account immediately. You can still report the theft and dispute the payments, but you’ll have to wait several days to get your money back.

Also, with a stolen credit card, you can’t be liable for more than $50 worth of charges, no matter how long it takes you to report the loss. However, it’s still a good idea to do it as soon as possible. If you manage to report the loss before the thief uses the card, the company can cancel it right away, and you won’t owe anything.

Reporting a stolen credit card is fairly simple. You can fill out a report online or call the issuer’s 24-hour customer service line. As with a debit card, the FTC says it’s a good idea to send a follow-up letter or e-mail and keep a copy on file.

The issuer will cancel the old credit card and send you a new one with a different number. However, it will still be linked to your current account, so the switch won’t hurt your credit score. It can take anywhere from a day to over a week for your new card to arrive. My new Chase Freedom and Costco credit cards arrived the day after I reported their loss, but my Citi Dividends card didn’t show up until nine days later.

Once you receive your new credit cards, switch any automatic payments you had set up on the stolen cards to use the new card number. If you can’t remember which cards had automatic payments on them, go through your credit card statements from the past few months to check. Switching the payments to a new card is usually just a matter of calling up the company and giving them the new card number. Some services, such as E-ZPass, let you change this information online.

Checkbook

If you’re one of the few people who still use paper checks and routinely carry a checkbook, that gives thieves yet another route to your money. If they can find a store that takes checks or a bank that will cash them without ID, they can simply forge your signature on one of your checks. By the time you discover the transaction, they’ll be long gone with your money. You can sue the bank to get it back, but it’s a huge hassle.

To stop the thieves from using your checks, you can call the bank, notify it of the theft, and ask it to stop payment on the missing checks. Most banks charge a small fee for this service. Fortunately, that’s for the entire transaction, not for each check, although some banks charge a little more to cancel a series of checks. Your bank might be willing to waive the fee if you present a copy of the police report or the report number.

You will need to know the numbers of the checks you lost in order to stop payment on them. Fortunately, this isn’t too hard to figure out. Check your bank statement to find the number of the most recent check that you wrote, then cancel every number between that one and the start of the next batch of checks in the box.

Unfortunately, your stop payment order may only be valid for six months with an option to renew, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. That means if the thieves still have your checkbook six months from now, they can try to use your checks again. To stop them, you’ll have to renew the stop-payment order and pay another fee.

Your bank, however, may offer a permanent stop payment order, which guarantees that the checks can never be used at any future date. After canceling six stolen checks, I learned that a standard stop payment order was only good for six months. I then went back to the bank and had them make the stop payment order permanent.

However, not all banks offer this option. A 2010 New York Times article states that Citibank, Chase, and Charles Schwab all allow permanent stop payment orders, but Bank of America does not. If your bank won’t allow you to stop your checks permanently, your best bet is to close the entire account and open a new one.

Safe Deposit Box

Chances are, you don’t have a safe deposit box, and if you do, you probably don’t carry the key with you on a daily basis. However, if you happened to have it on you when your wallet or purse was stolen – as I did – then that’s another security hole you have to plug.

The chances that thieves will actually be able to get into your safe deposit box just because they have the key are pretty slim since these keys don’t have anything written on them to say which bank they belong to. However, since the thieves who took my purse also got my debit card and checkbook, which had the name of my bank on them, I thought there was a risk they might connect the dots. In any case, I had to go to the bank to report and replace the missing key.

Fortunately, my husband still had his key to our safe deposit box, so we didn’t have to pay the $150 fee to drill into the box and access the contents. Instead, the bank gave us two choices. We could just replace the lost key for $25, or for the same amount, we could switch out the locks on our box and get a new set of keys for it. That way, even if the thieves managed to figure out where our safe deposit box was, they wouldn’t be able to get anything from it.

Since the price was the same, we chose the second option. Switching out the locks only took a few minutes – and after I presented the bank with the letter from the police about the theft, they even waived the fee for us.

Insurance Cards

There’s one more item in your wallet you need to replace as soon as possible: the ID card or cards for your health insurance plan. Without those, you won’t have any way to prove you’re insured if you happen to get sick or injured.

If you have private health insurance, you can either call your insurer or use their website to request a new insurance card. However, it may take several weeks for your new card to arrive. Fortunately, most health insurers’ websites allow you to print out a temporary card on paper to use in the meantime. If not, try writing down your member ID, group policy number, and plan type on paper, and using that if you need to see a doctor.

If you use Medicare, you can print out a replacement card from MyMedicare.gov. Log into your account, or create one if you don’t have one, and look for a link that says “View or print your Medicare card now.” You can also ask to have a new card mailed to you by clicking the Replacement Medicare Card tab on the My Account page, but it will take up to four weeks to arrive.

If you’re on Medicaid, replacing the card is a little more complicated. Although the program is partially paid for by the federal government, each state runs its own program, so you’ll need to contact your state Medicaid agency to request a new card. You can find contact info for your state’s program at Medicaid.gov.

Driver’s License

Of all the things you carry in your wallet, your driver’s license is the most difficult to replace. Until you replace it, you can’t legally drive, which makes it hard to get to work or anywhere else you need to go. To make matters more complicated, you can’t simply call up your state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and request a replacement, the way you can with a credit or debit card.

Instead, you have to go down to your nearest DMV office in person, give them proof of your identity, and pay a fee to replace the license. In most states, you can get a duplicate or replacement license for between $5 and $30. For a complete list of charges by state, visit the Fiscal Policy website.

The hard part of replacing a driver’s license isn’t the fee, it’s the hassle. In most places, there are long lines and wait times at the DMV. You can shorten the wait by showing up at times when the DMV is less busy, which usually means the mid-morning or mid-afternoon hours, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the month. But if you’re in a hurry to replace your license so you can drive again, you can’t always wait that long. So you’ll probably have to block out at least a couple of hours in your schedule to visit the DMV – and you’ll also have to find someone else to drive you there.

Providing ID for your new license can also be a problem. Each state has different requirements for which types of ID they will allow when replacing a license; you can find what they are in your state by visiting your state DMV website. I live in New Jersey, which has one of the most complicated sets of rules: you can use various combinations of documents, but at least one must be a “primary” document, such as an existing driver’s license, passport, or birth certificate.

Since I no longer had my old license, I had to go visit my parents and get my birth certificate from them. If you don’t happen to have your birth certificate (or live near your parents), you might need to order a copy of it. You can find instructions for how to do this at USA.gov.

If you normally carry your car registration in your wallet along with your license, as drivers are encouraged to do in New Jersey, you’ll need to replace this as well. Fortunately, a duplicate registration is cheaper than a replacement license. We were able to get a new copy for $5.

Passport

In general, there’s no reason to carry your passport around with you when you’re in your home country. However, you might have it with you if you’re planning to take an airline trip soon, or if you want to use it as ID. I happened to have mine in my purse when it was stolen because I was planning to use it as a backup ID when renewing my driver’s license. However, after the purse was taken, I didn’t have it as a primary or backup ID and had to fall back on my birth certificate.

Even if you don’t need to replace your stolen passport right away, it’s important to report its loss to prevent identity theft. As the BBC reports, criminals can use your passport to take out all kinds of accounts in your name, possibly destroying your credit. They can also use stolen passports to establish their bona fides before committing additional crimes, such as drug smuggling or even terrorism. Sometimes innocent people are even arrested for these crimes because criminals have been using their passports and their identities.

The Department of State offers three ways to report a lost or stolen passport: by mail, by phone, or online. I used the online tool, and it only took a few minutes to fill in all the information and submit it. Now, if the thieves – or someone else who bought the passport from them on the black market – try to use my passport, they won’t be able to get anywhere with it.

If you actually want to replace your stolen U.S. passport, that’s a bit more work. If it is stolen while you’re outside the country, you must go to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to replace it so you can return home. If you’re in the United States, you must go to the nearest passport acceptance center – which you can find through the State Department, and turn in the appropriate form, along with a recent color photo of your face, proof of identity, and proof of U.S. citizenship. The fee is $65 if you want a passport card for identification only, or $145 if you want a passport book that you can use for international air travel.

Your new passport will be sent to you by mail. If you’re applying for a passport book, you can pay an extra $15.89 to have it delivered to you within one to two days.

Miscellaneous Cards

If you’re like me, your wallet probably has a lot of cards in it besides your ID and credit cards. For instance, you could have a library card or shopper loyalty cards from your favorite stores and restaurants.

Some of these cards are not a big deal. For instance, a “buy ten, get one free” card from your local coffee shop doesn’t have your name or address on it, so thieves can’t really get anything from it except a free coffee. But if thieves get hold of any card that’s linked to an account you own, they could use it to run up a big bill in your name.

To avoid this, report the loss of any card that has your name or personal information on it. Cancel and replace your membership cards for the gym, movie clubs, and the library so the thief can’t stick you with a bunch of overdue fees. Also, call up stores and other companies where you have loyalty cards to do the same thing. Even if you can’t think of a way thieves could use a particular card against you, it can’t hurt to cancel the card and get a new one.

Protect Your Credit

Even after you’ve canceled your stolen credit and debit cards, there’s still a risk that thieves could use them – along with your stolen driver’s license – to take out new accounts in your name. There are three ways to stop this from happening: credit monitoring, a fraud alert, or a credit freeze.

Paid Credit Monitoring

Services such as LifeLock and PrivacyGuard offer to monitor your credit in exchange for a monthly fee, which can be anywhere from $10 to $30. For this amount, the companies can:

  • Keep an Eye on Your Credit. The services check your credit report every day. If there are any sudden changes, such as a request for new credit in your name, they send you an alert. If the new account turns out to be fake, the company will help you report and correct the error.
  • Watch for Identity Theft. These companies can also check black market websites that deal in stolen personal information, such as Social Security numbers. If your information pops up on one of these sites, they alert you and help you recover from identity theft.
  • Insure You Against Loss. Some credit monitoring services also provide identity theft insurance. If your identity is stolen, they’ll pay up to a certain amount to cover any losses you suffer as a result.
  • Give You Access to Your Credit Score. Another perk of these services is that they give you access to your credit score on demand. However, this perk is not the main selling point, since there are lots of ways to check your credit score for free.

Credit monitoring services can help you catch identity theft quickly before too much damage is done. However, they can’t do anything to stop identity theft before it happens. They also can’t fix errors on your credit report for you. They can offer guidance on how to fix them yourself, but you still have to do the work.

Free Credit Monitoring

Financial experts often say that paid credit monitoring services aren’t worth the cost. They point out that you can do most of what a credit monitoring service does on your own for free.

For instance, you can get a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once per year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. If you stagger your free reports, you can check your credit once every four months. Then you can spot any red flags and report them – just as you would if you’d learned about them from a credit monitoring service.

You can also use free sites like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame to access to your credit score whenever you want. This gives you a chance to spot a sudden change in your credit score, which could be a sign of identity theft.

These sites have other perks, too. For instance, CreditKarma gives you a simplified version of your credit reports from Equifax and TransUnion that you can check every time you log on. Credit Sesame offers $50,000 in identity theft insurance – even with a free account. Both sites also offer optional, free e-mail alerts to tell you if there’s a change in your credit accounts.

However, free services like these don’t offer quite as much protection as paid credit monitoring services. Most of them monitor your credit reports from only one or two credit bureaus, instead of all of them. They also can’t monitor the dark web to see if your social security number has been stolen.

You can also get credit monitoring for free with certain credit cards. For instance, Select Citi cards come with built-in credit monitoring and identity theft protection, which works even when fraud is committed on another company’s credit card. Discover also offers a service that monitors risky websites where Social Security numbers may appear and alerts you by text or e-mail if your information is found. Check to see if any of your credit cards come with credit monitoring before you sign up for a paid service.

Fraud Alerts

Another way to protect your credit for free is to set up a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert warns businesses that you either are or might be a victim of identity theft. If you have one, lenders must take extra steps to verify your identity before setting up a new credit account in your name. Typically, this means calling you at a phone number you have on file.

There are two types of fraud alerts:

  • Initial Fraud Alert. Anyone who is concerned about identity theft is allowed to request an initial fraud alert, which lasts for 90 days. At the end of that time, you’ll have the option to renew the alert. When you place an initial fraud alert, you are allowed to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus – EquifaxExperian, and TransUnion.
  • Extended Fraud Alert. If you have already been a victim of identity theft, you can get an extended fraud alert that’s good for seven years. It entitles you to two free credit reports from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus within a 12-month period. It also requires the credit reporting companies to take your name off mailing lists for pre-screened credit offers for the next five years. Before you can get one, you must file an Identity Theft Report online at IdentityTheft.gov.

Setting up either type of fraud alert is free. All you have to do is contact one of the three national credit bureaus, either online or by phone, and ask it to put a fraud alert on your credit file. That bureau must notify the other two, so your fraud alert will end up on all three of your credit reports.

Credit Freeze

The ultimate way to protect your credit is a credit freeze, or a security freeze, which stops lenders from viewing your credit history. Since lenders usually won’t set up a new account without pulling your credit report first, this almost always stops thieves from taking out a new account in your name. Banks and other lenders you already have accounts with can still check your credit, and you can view your own annual credit report.

The biggest downside of a credit freeze is that it applies to all lenders, including the ones you want to do business with. While the freeze is in effect, you can’t open any new credit accounts. The freeze also stops insurance companies from checking your credit, which is something they usually need to do before giving you a quote on a new policy. Employers can’t check your credit report if you’re applying for a job, and cell phone companies can’t check it in order to offer you a better rate.

If you want to open a new account or shop around for a better rate on homeowners’ insurance, you can lift the freeze temporarily. However, this can take a few days to do, and you usually have to pay a small fee. The cost varies from state to state.

To put a credit freeze on your account, you must contact each of the three major credit bureaus separately to request it. You’ll also have to pay a separate fee – usually between $5 and $10 – to each of the three companies. After freezing your credit, each company will send you a confirmation letter containing a personal identification number (PIN) or password. Keep this in a safe place, since you’ll need it when you want to lift the freeze.

A credit freeze stays in place for seven years or until you remove it. In many states, you must pay another fee to lift the credit freeze either temporarily or permanently. That means every time you want to open a new account or give someone access to your credit, you’ll be paying $5 or $10 a pop for the privilege.

How to Decide

If you’re not sure what’s the best way to protect your credit after a theft, IdentityTheft.gov can help. When you visit the site and enter some information about exactly what was stolen, it gives you a customized recovery plan explaining exactly what steps you need to take. If you set up an account on the site, it gives you a step-by-step plan and keeps track of your progress. This is also helpful for filling out forms and letters to submit to businesses and the government.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to worry about any threats to my credit after my purse was snatched. I’d already put a credit freeze on my account in the wake of last year’s big Equifax credit hack, so even if the thieves got my account information, there was no way for them to use it.

Track or Block Your Phone

One thing I didn’t lose when my purse was snatched was my cell phone. Because I’m a late adopter, I still don’t have a smartphone. I have an old feature phone that I share with my husband – and he happened to be carrying it that day. However, since most people carry their cell phones everywhere they go, most robbery victims probably won’t be so lucky.

That’s a big problem, because not only is a smartphone a costly piece of equipment to replace, it can also have a lot of personal information on it that thieves could use. They could use apps on your phone to log into your various accounts or even make purchases using a mobile payment app.

Fortunately, cell phone manufacturers offer several built-in tools that can help you in this situation. You can use software to track your phone, block it, or even wipe it clean from a distance so the thieves can’t access your data. Just follow these steps:

  1. Contact Your Provider. First, contact your wireless carrier, either by phone or online. They can walk you through the steps to try to locate your lost phone. If you can’t find it, they can disable the service to your phone so the thieves can’t use it to make calls.
  2. Track the Phone. You can use the Find My iPhone app to locate a missing iPhone or the Find My Device tool for an Android phone. You can also use Find My Mobile for any Samsung phone. These services can make the phone ring loudly, so you can find it if it’s nearby, or track its location on a map. However, these services only work if you’ve set them up on your phone ahead of time.
  3. Check Out the Location Carefully. If your missing phone is in a public location, you can go and look for it. You might find it discarded somewhere, or you might find the thief who took it. However, don’t put yourself in danger by confronting the thief. Give the information about the phone’s location to the police, and let them use it to catch the criminal.
  4. Block the Phone. Both Find My iPhone and Find My Device can remotely lock your phone so thieves can’t use it. You can set up a PIN or password so you, and only you can reactivate the phone when it’s found. You can also get the phone to display a message with a number where you can be reached, so any Good Samaritan who finds it can contact you to return it.
  5. Erase the Phone. If you’re sure your phone is gone for good, you can use Find My iPhone or Find My Device to erase it remotely. This will remove all your personal data and return the phone to its factory settings. If by some chance you find it again, you can restore the contents from a backup, if you have one.

Change the Locks

If your purse was snatched with your keys in it, the thieves now have access to your home and car. If they have your wallet with your ID in it, they also know where you live. So, depending on your circumstances, it could be worth changing the locks to protect your home and car from theft.

House Keys

If you’re a renter, notify your landlord right away that your apartment key was stolen. In most cases, they’ll want to re-key the locks as soon as possible to protect their property. The landlord will probably charge you a fee for this, but you won’t have to do the work yourself.

If you own your home, you’ll have to deal with changing your own locks. Fortunately, this isn’t too hard to do. My husband and I simply went to a hardware store and bought a set of two exterior doorknobs, complete with keys, for about $40. The package included all the instructions on how to remove the old doorknobs and install the new ones. It only took him about an hour to replace both doorknobs, and now the thieves have no way of using our old keys to get into our house.

If for some reason you can’t change your locks, there are other things you can do to protect your home. If money isn’t a concern, you could install a home security system. If you can’t afford a real security system, you can set up a dummy camera on your roof to make it look like you have one, so thieves will think twice before breaking in. A “Beware of Dog” sign can also be a deterrent, even if you don’t have a dog.

Finally, if you’re on friendly terms with your neighbors, let them know about what’s happened. Ask them to keep an eye out for strangers around your house, and to call you or the police if they spot anyone.

Car Keys

If your car is a newer model that has a computer chip in the key, you don’t necessarily need to change the locks to keep thieves from driving off with it. When my husband and I went to the dealership to report my stolen car key, the clerk told us we had two options:

  1. Reprogram the Keys. If we treated the incident as if we had both lost our keys, the dealer would simply reprogram the computer chip in my husband’s key and give me a new one to match. Only those two keys would be able to start the car. However, the old key would still be able to open the doors. This option would cost us about $200 plus tax.
  2. Replace the Locks. The other option was to change out all the locks on the car, including the ignition cylinder, and give us new keys. This option would keep the thieves out of the car entirely, but it would cost about twice as much.

Since we don’t normally keep anything valuable in the car, we went with the cheaper option. We had to spend over two hours sitting in the waiting room while they did the work, but the cost and the time were worth it to us for our peace of mind.

If you have an older car with plain keys that don’t have a chip, replacing the locks and the ignition is the only way to secure the car. This is likely to cost you between $200 and $600 at the dealership. However, if you hire an independent auto locksmith, the cost will be a lot less – between $75 and $220. This is a little more work for you since you have to do a bit of research to find and hire a competent technician.

If you don’t care about thieves getting into your car, as long as they can’t drive off with it, there’s an even cheaper option: go down to an auto parts store and pick up an anti-theft locking device, such as The Club. These devices come in a variety of styles that can lock the brake pedal to the steering wheel, the gear shift to the parking brake, or the steering wheel so that it can’t be turned. Prices range from around $10 to $60, so even a high-end one costs less than replacing your locks.

File a Claim

The cost of replacing everything in your purse, or even just your wallet, can be a hefty financial blow. I’ve already spent over $350 recovering from the robbery, and that’s not including some things I haven’t replaced yet, like my passport.

The detective in charge of my case advised me to save all the receipts for everything I bought on account of the robbery, saying I shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for any of it. I think that was a little optimistic, but depending on what you lost, you may be able to recover at least some of your expenses.

Homeowners Insurance

If your purse or wallet was stolen from your home, your homeowners insurance or renters insurance policy should definitely cover the loss. However, even if it was snatched on the street like mine, your policy could still cover it. Most homeowners policies include “off-premises coverage,” which insures you against theft while you’re away from home. Many policies include some protection for identity theft as well.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can simply file a claim and get back every penny you lost from the robbery. Most policies have a deductible, which is an amount you must pay before your insurance kicks in. If your deductible is $500 and your total losses from the robbery were $400, then you’re out of luck; the insurance won’t cover it.

Many policies have limits on coverage as well. For instance, many policies will only reimburse you for up to $200 in stolen cash or $2,000 worth of jewelry. So if some lucky thief steals your purse while it has $3,000 worth of jewelry in it, in most cases, you’ll only get $2,000 back.

Check your insurance policy to see what your deductible and coverage limits are. If the amount you lost is more than the deductible, go ahead and file a claim. You can usually do this online, or you can call the insurer for instructions. Even if you can’t recover the full amount of your losses, every little bit helps.

Car Insurance

Even if your purse or wallet was taken from your car, your auto insurance policy won’t cover the loss. However, if the policy includes comprehensive coverage, it should cover any damage to the car itself, such as broken windows or locks. It might also cover the cost of replacing your keys.

Once again, you have to factor in your deductible. My policy has a deductible of $500 for the comprehensive coverage, and the amount I paid to reprogram the keys was less than $250. So in my case, there was no point in filing a claim.

However, some insurers offer comprehensive coverage with no deductible at all. If you have this insurance, you could get back the entire cost of re-keying your car. If you can’t tell whether your policy covers key replacement, call your insurer to ask.

State Crime Victim Funds

Sometimes, the cost of dealing with a theft doesn’t end when you’ve replaced all your stuff. For instance, if you were the victim of a violent robbery, you could have bills for medical care or counseling. Even if the robbery wasn’t violent but you had to miss work on account of it, you could lose income as a result.

Homeowner’s insurance usually doesn’t cover these costs. That’s why every state has a crime victim compensation fund to help victims of crime cover their out-of-pocket expenses. These funds generally cover medical expenses, counseling costs, lost wages, and funeral expenses. You can receive payment even if the thief is never arrested or convicted.

Whether your state fund will cover your expenses depends on where you live and on how your wallet or purse was stolen. All states cover victims of violent crimes, including robbery, but some of them only provide compensation if you suffered physical injuries as a result of the crime. Some states have more generous rules that also cover victims of burglary. The National Association of Crime Victims Compensation Boards can help you find details about your state’s program.

Even if you’re entitled to coverage under your state’s victim fund, don’t expect a quick payout. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, it often takes weeks or even months to process a claim.

Final Word

I’d like to be able to say that the police caught the thief and that I got all my stuff back. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Three weeks later, the thief is still at large, and I’ve had to replace most of what I lost at my own expense.

However, I still consider myself lucky. Because I acted quickly, I was able to avoid losing anything more than the physical objects in my purse. The thieves weren’t able to use my credit or debit cards, and they couldn’t get into my house, car, or safe deposit box. So now that I’ve replaced my belongings, the ordeal is over and I don’t have to live in fear of when the other shoe is going to drop.

I also feel like I’ve learned useful lessons. A robbery can happen anywhere, at any time, even in a safe neighborhood like mine. It’s a lot less hassle to prevent a theft before it happens – or at least minimize the amount of stuff a thief can grab.

To reduce my risk, I’ve switched to a purse with a cross-body strap, which makes it harder to snatch. I’ve also stopped carrying my checkbook on a daily basis, and I won’t carry my passport unless I need it that very day. And on days when I’m wearing clothes with pockets, I’ll consider keeping my keys in my pocket rather than my purse, so they can’t be stolen along with the purse.

If you’re a guy, you can also reduce your risk of having your wallet lifted. Move it from your back pants pocket to a front pocket or better yet, an inside jacket pocket. That will make it much harder for a pickpocket to grab.

Have you ever had your wallet or purse stolen? What steps did you take to recover from the theft?

Amy Livingston
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, "And from that you make a living?" She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.

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