I take full accountability for this, but it happens to a lot of people.
You’re on vacation, you’re with someone you love, and you’re caught up in the moment. Somehow, you don’t even feel your seven-inch powder-pink wallet slip from the palms of your hands as you walk out of the car and back into the apartment. You’re too focused on the sun warming your outsides and a lovely home-cooked meal warming your insides.
It takes roughly thirty minutes to realise what you’ve lost. It wasn’t even the money or your ID that you needed; it was a pen. And it caused you to scour the apartment for another hour, certain you brought it back in with you. Checking coat pockets again and again, certainly it will show up this time.
Soon enough, the frantic, outwardly panic stalls and welcomes your inwardly anxiety. What are you supposed to do when you’ve lost your wallet in a foreign country? Your flight home is in two and a half days. Thank God you decided to leave your passport at the apartment.
Now that you’ve concluded that there is no way for your wallet to be in the apartment, and you’ve retraced your steps from the car, and you’ve sulked a bit, you need to act fast.
Worst case scenario: someone has picked up your wallet and decided to go on a shopping spree. How can you stop them?
Cut Card Access
It was Sunday evening in France, Sunday early-morning for my American banks. All of the phone lines were robots, directing me to call back during business hours. I called my three main banks anyway. Luckily, all of them had pretty easy protocol for reporting cards as missing/lost/stolen.
All of my cards were deactivated at the literal press of a button.
Finally, I could take the breath I didn’t even realise I was holding. All of the cards I could think of were now inactive. To count, that was one credit card (completely cancelled and frozen), two debit cards (deactivated), a Target REDcard (I know there’s no Target in France, but it was linked to one of my bank accounts, so my paranoia cancelled it just in case), and a Venmo Card (disabled). The Venmo card will be my saving grace, but more on that later.
I monitor my credit very closely, because I would like to buy a home some day. So, part two of my plan involved freezing my credit. I found that all three main credit reporting agencies have free, required, online freezing services, so I planned to go through each of them.
It was incredibly easy to freeze my credit with Equifax. I created my account and froze it all in one go. After hearing all about that horrible security breach a while ago, I was worried that it would be a painful process. However, I was pleasantly mistaken.
Unfortunately, my Experian experience did not go as smoothly. It began with a long questionnaire designed to ensure I was actually Maryn. Usually, I have no problem with these precautions. My mind was quickly changed when I was declined a security freeze and asked to mail in a request with a copy of my utility bill, passport, social security number, three bat wings, my first-born’s soul, and all of my future hopes and dreams.
I think that the freezing process definitely should be simple to instantiate, and more difficult to thaw. Not the other way around.
Check Local Hotels
With my jaw to the floor, gasping at the mail in request screen, about ready to freeze on TransUnion, my lovely boyfriend came to my side. “Let’s go! They found it,” he smiled, putting on his shoes and sliding his arms into his jacket. I didn’t even bother to put my shoes on all the way, and we quickly walked to the police station with my shoelaces flapping in the wind.
Quentin explained to me that his dad had called the nearby hotel asking if it had been turned in, and it had. The hotel checked my ID against their guests, and since I wasn’t staying there, turned the wallet in to the police. At that point, we had already assumed someone had stolen my wallet, but it was so good to hear that it was untouched and safe in the hands of town service.
Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the police station seemed closed, so we decided to go back the next day.
Check the Police Station(s)
So now, we knew my wallet was with the police, but we didn’t know which station.
We decided to try one that was different from the one we tried last night. There, the front-desk-ladies offered little hope, saying it would take about three days for me to get my wallet back. Since I was leaving the country before then, I’d have to write a letter saying my boyfriend had permission to pick it up for me. We went back to the apartment, and I felt like I was going to puke a little.
As soon as we got back to Quentin’s place, he checked his phone and mumbled something like, “actually, let’s go back to the other station we tried last night,” and I figured, we may as well.
There was a big, burly officer at the door, and I was glad to see him, since it meant the station was open this time. We went inside, but were redirected to a secret door at the side of the building. There, we found two policemen who seemed to be in charge of lost items.
Internally Pray for Mercy
They asked what we were looking for, and Quentin described it. I tried to give little details about its contents, so they could be sure it was mine: in the coin-pouch, you’ll find American stamps and some pills which I needed to take about 20 hours ago. I also held my passport next to my face and smiled.
I could see my blush-coloured wallet peeking over one of the officers’ clipboards. He asked me if I knew what brand it was, and I immediately slipped out a dead-pan “oh shit”, since I didn’t know the brand, only that I purchased it from H&M about a month ago.
Without my answer, the police pulled out my ID and looked back at me, then back at each other and shrugged. They kept saying “no, no,” which I took to thinking they meant I didn’t look like my ID photo.
I nervously turned to Quentin, who said that I’d have to pay a small fee of merely €5000. Then, all three of them smiled, which indicated to me that they were joking — the only indication, mind you, since I only know about four phrases in French.
Promise It Will Never Happen Again
The queasiness I had felt for the last 36-or-so hours felt relieved. I even mock-threw-up to illustrate to Quentin how much better I felt.
This is never happening again. I’m going to be a thousand times more careful than I thought I was in the first place. My hands are no longer responsible enough to carry my wallet. I need a fanny pack or something. Maybe another necklace, like the one I always wear to carry my phone.
Plan For The Next Time It Happens
Even though I say this is never happening again, I still want to be absolutely prepared for if it does, and if next time happens to be worse. For example, if it doesn’t get turned in, if someone decides to use my cards or steal my identity.
Sure, my first thought was responsible enough to cancel my cards, but what about my insurance cards? My ID? My medication? To be quite honest, I don’t even know what I was going to do after I had finished freezing my accounts. Call my doctor and ask if they could give me back-up meds in France? Call my insurance and ask if I need to get new cards or account numbers? Take this as an opportunity to change my name so no one would find use in my old identity?
Next time, when I really need to freeze my credit, how can I make sure my request is accepted immediately?
I don’t know these answers yet. I’ll probably write a more detailed step-by-step plan for people really in a panic and looking for answers themselves. This post was actually supposed to be an interesting recap of what happened to me, since it was the most traumatic and dramatic part of my vacation.
Hail Our Saving Grace, Venmo
Now that I had my wallet back, all of my cards were null and void — except for one. Venmo was the only card that allowed for quick disabling and enabling from the app, without questioning my identity or mailing me a replacement card. That means it’s my only usable form of money for the next few weeks while I get my financial situation sorted.
Granted, I had to ask my sister to send money to my account (temporarily, of course I’ll pay her back later), since my linked accounts are now unusable. Edit title: Hail Our Saving Grace, Venmo and My Sister.
I used to use Venmo as my “leisure spending” card, but now I think that I’ll use it as my “very important back-up emergency life-saving” card.
Even though it’s going to be a pain to get my accounts and cards back in working order, I’m glad I decided to act quick. I read horror stories all the time about stolen cards racking up thousands of dollars in debt, ruining credit, ruining lives.
I am so thankful to be with Quentin through all of this, and that his dad thought to call the hotels. I’m thankful to have my sister who was willing to help me financially for the next week or so while I get straightened out, and I’m thankful the kind people who decided to turn in the wallet instead of stealing it. Things could have been much worse, and this was a much-appreciated wake up call.
You really can never be too careful.