As no doubt every Soldier is likely aware, the Department of Veterans Affairs recently lost a computer and external drive with the identifying information of an innumerable amount of veterans and active and Reserve service members. Although there is currently no evidence that the data has been used illegally, the event sheds light on just how ill-equipped most of us are to deal with identity theft.

Although exactly which actions to take will vary depending upon individual circumstances, nearly everyone who fears they have been the victim of identity theft should follow four basic steps:

Step One – Fraud Alert

If you believe someone has used your information illegally, immediately contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit bureaus and request that the agency place a fraud alert in your file.

If the credit bureau does not do so automatically, ask that it also insert a victim’s statement asking that creditors call before opening any new accounts or changing existing accounts.

Once one agency institutes an alert, the other two will routinely be notified and do the same. The credit bureaus will send copies of your credit report for your careful review to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts were opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to existing accounts.

To report fraud:

Equifax – 800-525-6285

Experian – 888-397-3742

TransUnion – 800-680-7289

Step Two – Banking

If you find that an account has been fraudulently accessed or opened, contact the security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions and close the account.

When opening a new account, use a new PIN and password. Ask the security representative about the company’s fraud dispute resolution system. Often, if the security department can prove that the access was fraudulent, your money will be refunded.

Under the Truth-In-Lending Act and the Fair Credit Billing Act, if you report to the credit card issuer that your card is lost or stolen, you cannot be held responsible for more than $50 of unauthorized charges.

Moreover, if you send a written notice to the credit card issuer within 60 days, it must investigate and either correct the error or explain why the bill is believed to be correct within two billing cycles or 90 days, whichever is less.

Step Three – Police Report

File a report with local police, and get a copy of the report in case the bank, credit card company, or others involved need proof of the crime. If you can show you have suffered an actual identity theft or harm due to fraudulent activity or misuse of account information, you should not have a problem filing a local police report about the incident.

Provide as much documentation as you can, including debt collection reports, credit reports, or other evidence of fraudulent activity.

If the police are reluctant to take your report, ask to file a “Miscellaneous Incidents” report, or try another jurisdiction, like your state police.

Be persistent; many creditors require a police report to resolve your dispute. So ask for a copy, or at the very least the number of the report.

Step Four – The FTC

Finally, you should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

This provides information that can help track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can also refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and companies for further action.

Obtain an ID Theft Affidavit by visiting online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or calling 877-IDTHEFT (438-4338). Military Families can also file through Military Sentinel at www.consumer.gov/military.

Veterans Affairs Data Security

Although the equipment has been recovered by the FBI, all Soldiers should closely monitor their personal financial affairs while the DoD, VA and the military services attempt to determine the details and impacts of the loss.

To see if your information is among that which was compromised, visit https://ID-Theft.army.mil.

If your data has been compromised, remain vigilant in checking the new VA Web site (http://www.firstgov.gov) and toll-free telephone number at 1-800-FED-INFO (333-4636).

Each features up-to-date news and information on the data compromise. The Web site also provides steps on how to check credit reports, how to guard against identity theft, and who to call if an individual believes any fraudulent activity is occurring with his or her personal information.