It goes without saying that traveling to a foreign country can be a bit disorienting at times. What can add to the chaos is that travelers are always whipping out their wallets while visiting attractions, dining and shopping in new cities all over the world. It is so important to be vigilant about where your wallet is at all times. This is a lesson I learned the hard way while traveling abroad recently to visit Mexico's winter markets during the holidays.

My wallet likely fell out of my pocket as I was talking to vendors and struggling with holding more bags than I had hands. Fortunately, I was able to take some quick steps to minimize the negative impact of what could have turned into a real headache. What are the steps you need to take if you discover that you've lost track of your wallet or credit cards while visiting a foreign country? Here's a quick rundown of what you and all of us at GET.com need to do if we ever find yourself in that situation.

1. Freeze Your Credit Cards And Debit Cards

Contacting your bank and credit card companies should be done as soon as you realize that your wallet is gone. You may be able to avoid all liability by reporting the loss before anyone has a chance to use your cards. It's important to keep in mind that your cards could still be used fraudulently even if your wallet was innocently dropped or left behind.

It's best to operate under the assumption that whoever finds your wallet will try to use your cards. In addition, creating a paper trail as early as possible is important. You want to be able to prove to credit card companies that any charges that took place once you lost possession of your wallet aren't your responsibility. Creating a paper trail will also assist with any travel insurance claims you'll be filing.

2. File A Police Report

It is also a good idea to file a police report if you discover that your wallet is missing while you're in a foreign country. This step is especially important if you believe that your wallet was taken while you were walking around or it was removed from your hotel room.

Of course, filing a police report can be difficult if there are language barriers in play. You might be able to receive assistance with language translation from your hotel's front desk. In addition, sometimes the travel agency or resort you've booked your trip with will provide you with some much-needed help revolving around language matters.

3. Contact Someone Back Home

You'll probably need someone from home to send you money if all your credit cards and debit cards are frozen while you're traveling. One big problem that has been impacting travelers lately is that many scammers send fake emails with elaborate stories about travelers being stranded abroad without any money. The email then asks people to wire money. You may have even received one of these scam emails from what appeared to be the email address of a friend or family member.

Unfortunately, this means people you know may actually dismiss an email or voicemail from you as a scam. You can prepare for this by asking one friend or family member ahead of time to be your contact if you should find yourself stranded without money. Be sure to create a code word that will let your contact know that it's really you.

4. Visit The Local Embassy Or Consulate

If your lost or stolen wallet contained your identification or passport, you may want to visit the embassy or consulate in the city you're visiting. These buildings are staffed with American citizens with the power to help you take care of the technical details of being able to return home. You'll also need to call the Social Security Administration when you return home if your Social Security card was lost.

5. Initiate A Fraud Alert

I will admit that panic almost got the best of me when I lost my wallet in a foreign city recently. However, it's so important to keep a cool head and act quickly to protect your credit history and bank account.

In addition to trying to recover your wallet in the here and now, you should also think about your long-term credit health. A criminal could sit on your wallet for weeks or months without ever making a move. This could lure you into a false sense of security!

What you need to do is initiate a fraud alert from each of the three big reporting bureaus. Many people don't realize that this service is offered for free to everyone for 90 days. You'll receive a phone call if anyone attempts to set up a new account or take out a loan in your name.

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