Practical steps to take if your wallet disappears

When a wallet has suddenly disappeared you may have forgotten it in the cafe or on the cross-town bus you just left.It could have been stolen while you strolled the busy marketplace before lunch.

When such a loss occurs, your belongings may be in the hands of a concerned Samaritan and may soon be returned. Meanwhile, here are some of the steps to take.

If a wallet or pocketbook is stolen, it should be reported to the police immediately, says Officer George Lotti of the Boston Police Department.

"It is good to report it right away so you will have on record what time the theft occurred," says Officer Lotti.

Each credit company should be notified to stop the use of credit cards. Most major credit card companies have toll-free numbers customers can call 24 hours a day. Having notified the police will help substantiate claims when reporting the loss of local credit cards that can only be stopped during business hours.

Many experts advise consumers not to carry around all their credit cards all the time. Only carry those that will be needed on each specific trip. Keep other cards in a file at home with records. Experts also advise maintaining a list at home of each card, the account number, and where to call if the card is lost.

Notify the bank if a checkbook is lost. Stop payments on all checks in that account. If a written check was lost, notify the payer and stop payment.

If travelers' checks are lost, notify the issuing company by telephone or in person. Those companies with offices nearby may be able to refund the money that same day or give an emergency refund to tide the customer over.

If a person loses a passport, he must reapply for one and file a lost passport report at the same time. When he reapplies at the local passport office, he must have a certified birth certificate, an identification with a signature and description or photo, and two passport identification photos, plus the usual fee for processing a passport.

"The process takes about 10 days, but if there is an emergency, it can be handled sooner," says one passport official.

When a driver's license is lost, it also should be reported immediately. To get a duplicate, a person must come into the license registry office with three forms of identification, such as a birth certificate, a picture identification, a bank book, or legal document with name and address. If a person has lost most of his identification, he will need notarized proof of identity.

If a car key is lost, one can call the dealership where the car was bought to find out the key number. Most automobile repair shops will then cut new keys for a small price. (It may also be a good idea to have the locks changed on your car if car keys and identification are lost together.)

Always have extra house keys stored in a safe place (not under a door mat). If house keys are stolen, it may be wise to have a locksmith put in new locks.

Some preventive measures: Make a habit of double checking to see that you have all your belongings when leaving restaurants, transportation, or any place that you may have set down your pocketbook or wallet. Whenever a credit card is used, make sure it is tucked back where it belongs and not thrown loosely into a purse or pocket where it might become lost. Carry as little cash as possible.

Keep valuables in different places, such as credit cards in an inside jacket pocket, and cash in a money belt. Be alert in close situations. Women should only carry small personal items in a purse, such as cosmetics. Men should not carry a fat wallet with flip out windows for all the credit cards.

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