You have probably heard that the fastest growing crime in the U.S. is identity theft/fraud. Identity theft can have financial consequences for, you resulting in fraudulent credit accounts opened in your name, or charges to your credit (or worse, debit) card that can cost you money — especially if you don’t catch it fast enough. While there is no full-proof way to protect against identity theft, you can limit its negative effects on you if you are prepared to act quickly.

The Federal Trade Commission offers these steps you should take if your identity is stolen:

  1. Place a fraud alert on your credit report: This will prevent any more accounts from being opened in your name. Contacting one of the three major credit bureaus will ensure that the other two are contacted as well. You can get free copies of your reports when you place a fraud alert, so you should look over them for signs of fraudulent activity.
  2. Close affected accounts: Close fraudulent accounts opened in your name, and close your own accounts that have been accessed by the identity thief. It’s a pain, but it needs to be done quickly. Keep the numbers of your financial institutions handy so that you can call and take care of the process. When you open new accounts, make sure to do so using new passwords and new PINs.
  3. Report the identity theft to the police: You can reduce your liability for identity fraud if you report the crime to your local or state police. Chances are that the perpetrator will not be caught, but a “Miscellaneous Incidents” report can go a long way toward helping your credibility. Make sure you get a copy of the report to keep for your own records.
  4. File a complaint at the FTC: The Federal Trade Commission has a web site designed for the report of identity theft and fraud: Go there and file a complaint.

All of these steps can be taken care of in one day. Indeed, you can use a cell phone to call and place a fraud alert on your report, and close your affected accounts, while you wait to make your report to the police. The important thing is to move quickly as soon as you discover that your identity has been compromised. You’ll be less liable for the financial consequences, and possibly limit some of the damage, although it may take some time to get your credit score and credit report back in proper order.