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Within 30 minutes of realizing her purse was stolen, more than $300 in fraudulent charges were on Amy Lazar's credit card. Another purchase of more than $1,200 at a clothing store was attempted but declined because it exceeded the card limit. Ms. Lazar, 30, was thrust into the time-consuming process of replacing everything in her wallet.

Ms. Lazar was in a busy downtown Toronto restaurant when her purse went missing. She reported the incident immediately to her credit card company, so she would not be responsible for the fraudulent charges.

She also notified the police, who told her to call the major credit bureaus - Equifax and TransUnion Canada - to place a fraud alert on her credit file. Equifax and TransUnion each receive approximately 1,400 to 1,800 identity theft complaints every month. With a fraud alert on her file, if Ms. Lazar or someone else attempts to obtain a new card or increase the credit limit, the lender should take steps to verify the request is authorized by the right person. In addition, it's advised that if you've been a victim of identity theft, you should review your credit report semi-annually or annually to ensure there are no fraudulent charges moving forward. You can order by phone, mail or online at either of the credit bureaus.

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The more information we carry in our wallets, the easier it is for us to become victims. For a year after she was married, Toronto newlywed Lindsay Holly carried her birth certificate, Social Insurance Number and marriage licence everywhere she went. "You need originals for everything, not just a drivers licence or health card," Ms. Holly says. "I carried it all in case something came up that I needed to change."

A good tip for safeguarding against fraud and easing the stress of a lost or stolen wallet is to make copies of all your cards. It takes just a few minutes to scan the front and back. Beside each card, jot down the contact info to call in case of an emergency. Or keep each card's customer service number stored in your home phone. That way, if your cellphone is stolen with your wallet, you still have the numbers you need to cancel your credit cards.

Cancelling credit cards as quickly as possible is important. Having that photocopied record of your cards will ensure you don't forget any. We often neglect to cancel our CAA card or video store card right away, which can also be used to rack up unintended charges.

Additional tips for dealing with a lost wallet can be found at Service Canada. The biggest fear with a stolen wallet isn't the lost Kobo or pair of sunglasses, it's the threat of identify theft, which affects millions of Canadians ever year. It's a financial and emotional nightmare. Taking a few minutes to safeguard against it now could save hours or months of financial anguish in the future.

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