Around this time last year, I thought I lost my wristlet (that’s like a tiny wallet on a string, for our male readers!) in Sears. That’s right. Holiday shopping season. Hordes of crowds. In the mall… and all my credit cards, plus my personal identification, MIA.

I asked the security guard if anyone had seen it or turned it in. My sister called my phone, which was also inside. Nothing.

You know that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, the world seems to spin, and your heart races? I didn’t get that.

I’d like to think it’s because I’m just that “zen,” calm, confident and secure. But really, it’s just because I was well-prepared and knew the steps to take if my wallet didn’t show up within about 30 minutes. While it would have put a damper on my holiday shopping, I knew Chase could get me a debit card immediately so I could access my cash, and I’d have new credit cards sent overnight.

Now I’m sharing these steps with you so that you can protect your identity during holiday shopping.

Protect Your Identity Before Your Endanger Your Good Credit

Before you travel or leave the home during peak shopping times, remove any credit cards and forms of identification you don’t need. Carrying pay stubs in your purse? Not a good idea. Plus, carrying only the credit cards you need will help you stay out of debt by helping you resist temptation to charge more than you can afford.

Then, for all the cards left, write down the emergency phone number to call if you lose that card. You should have your social security number committed to memory, so don’t write that down! Don’t write down pin numbers or passwords, either.

Avoid Theft and Loss

Common sense measures will prevent you from having your wallet stolen. Don’t leave your purse hanging from a stroller or in a grocery cart while you shop. Always zip your purse and keep it close to your body. Men, keep your wallet in an inside jacket pocket. If you’re using a bank card, put transactions through as credit instead of debit so you don’t have to enter a pin, and keep your credit card out of view of other shoppers at the register so they can’t read the numbers off it.

As you leave each store or register, do a quick check for all your essentials: cell phone, keys, wallet. Accidents happen, but being conscious of your actions and surroundings without getting swept up in the holiday mayhem can go a long way toward preventing careless mistakes.

Lost Wallet? Step One: Don’t Panic.

This famous advice from the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy is almost always good: Don’t panic. Remember, you’re prepared. First, find store security and ask about your wallet. They might send you to lost-and-found. As you head there, re-trace your steps. If your wallet is in lost and found, it’s relatively safe. If it’s lying around the store, you’re at risk of someone stealing it.

Cash registers are one place you may leave behind a wallet or credit card. Also, the food court or restaurant tables. Act swiftly. Keep track of the time you misplaced your wallet, so that if you have to use those emergency numbers in your pocket, you can do it before there’s too much damage.

Don’t ask strangers if they’ve seen a wallet or credit card. If you ask the wrong person, they will be on a hunt, too. You might give store clerks your name and ask them to contact store security if someone is using a card with your name on it. (Don’t count on clerks to match signatures or ask for ID!) Hopefully there will be a way to reach you and your cell phone won’t be with your wallet. If it is, check back with security after a half hour or so.

Wallet Nowhere to Be Found? Put Emergency Plan in to Action

When you’re confident you’ve re-traced all your steps and can’t find your wallet, check lost-and-found one final time, and then call the emergency numbers on your cards. If your cell phone is also missing, ask an employee at customer service if you can use the store phone. If you’re in a specific retail store, cancel that card first; that’s the one a thief is likely to use.

Follow Up

While you’re secure in the knowledge that your cards are stopped and new ones are in the mail, it’s time to keep tabs on your accounts. Log in to your credit card accounts online, at home, from your secure network, and check the recent activity. If there are any charges you don’t recognize, call the credit card company immediately. If you lost your wallet on a weekend, it might take until Monday or even Tuesday for charges to post, so keep an eye on your accounts for the next few days. Read your next statement very carefully. If nothing is amiss, you’re in the clear and, like me, you survived losing your wallet during the holiday season!

P.S. My wristlet was dangling on the purse hanger in the bathroom at Sears.

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