We spend a lot of time talking about how to protect yourself and your data by taking security measures like passwords, two factor authentication, and other important security settings. But no matter how vigilant you are, your data – including sensitive personal information – could still be compromised or stolen. Just look at how many major retailers and banks have been hacked in the last few years: Target, Home Depot, Chase, even the US government. Chances are you have probably received at least one email alerting you to a security breach that may include your personal information. So what should you do if your identity is stolen?

Don’t panic. There are a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself and minimize the damage, even if the worst happens.

1. Check your credit report regularly. You do this anyway, right? (You should.) You can go to annualcreditreport.com to get a free copy of your credit report. You can also get it from any (or all) of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Review all of the accounts and make sure they are in fact yours. If you find a fraudulent account, report it right away.

2. Check your credit card and bank statements. You check your statement every month, right? Well, you mean to anyway. If your identity has been (or may have been) stolen, you have to stay on top of all your active accounts and check for fraudulent activity. Like, all the time. Fraudulent activity isn’t always thousands of dollars charged in a store you’ve never heard of that will send up the red flags and send you into a sweat. Sometimes thieves make smaller charges at gas stations or other retailers you frequent, because they’re easy to slip through the cracks. It’s your job to catch it.

3. Issue a fraud alert. If you get an email notifying you that your info might have been stolen, or if you find fraudulent activity on your credit report, you can contact the credit agencies to put an alert on your file. This is an added layer of security that will alert lenders that your identity may have been stolen. If anyone’s trying to take out a loan in your name, they’ll have to prove they’re you. (Which they’re not. So they’ll have trouble there. Mission accomplished. )

4. Put a freeze on your file. If you want to be certain no one is tapping into your personal information, you can place a security freeze on your credit file with the credit reporting agencies. Doing this will prevent them from releasing your credit report or any information from it without your written permission. You must make this request in writing by overnight or certified mail. If you do place a freeze on your account, you probably won’t want to apply for a loan or any kind of credit for a while – or expect delays if you do.

5. File a police report. Yep, you gotta get it in writing. You may need to show it to creditors as proof that you aren’t responsible for fraudulent accounts or activity. You can file a report with the Federal Trade Commission online or by calling 1-877-438-4338.

Be smart, and be vigilant. It’s your identity. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for keeping it safe.

photo credit: Commedia dell’Arte , Creative Commons