Close your debit and credit cards
Any lost credit or debit accounts should be closed as soon as possible. Start with debit, which can be even more devastating than having a credit card stolen. “The money is coming right out of your bank account, whereas credit is a credit card company’s money,” Siciliano says. But act fast—you’ll be liable for up to only $50 of fraudulent charges if you report it within two business days, but any longer and you could lose $500 or more. Credit cards, on the other hand, have a 60-day gap for you to report. Siciliano recommends swapping out a debit card for an ATM card, which lets you take out or deposit cash and checks but can’t be swiped to pay at a store or restaurant.
Put up a fraud alert
One option is to put up a fraud alert on your file by calling just one of the three credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union). If someone tries to open credit using your name and information, the business will take more steps to confirm their identty. “The problem here is that if they have a hold of your license, they could take your information and put their picture on a faked license,” says Adam Levin, chairman and founder of identity protection service IDT911 and author of Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves. These are 26 secrets identity thieves won’t tell you.
Freeze your credit
An even better alternative to a fraud alert is freezing your credit. Whether your wallet was stolen or you just want extra security, a credit freeze will keep you—or thieves—from opening any new accounts. “All a credit card company does is refund your account if there’s fraud,” Siciliano says. “They’re just forgiving the debt, not guarding your credit.” You’ll have to call all three credit reporting companies to freeze your credit, but you can call just one if you want to thaw it. There’s a fee of about $10 every time you freeze and unfreeze (though it’s free if you’re an identity theft victim), but it provides extra protection that’s hard to crack.