Things to do to stop identity thieves in their tracks
But here's some critical information to limit the damage, in case this happens to you or someone you know:

We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately.  But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call.  Keep those where you can find them easily.

File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen, this proves to credit providers you were diligent, and is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).

But here's what's most important:  Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number.  I had never heard of doing this until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name.  The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done.  There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves' purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert.  Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away this weekend (someone turned it in). 

It seems to have stopped them in their tracks.

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2003 Add-on: Since writing the article above, I've found the location of the 3 national credit reporting organizations noted above: http://www.experian.com/ http://www.equifax.com/ http://transunion.com/ . If you want a report from all three, the cheapest source seems to be TransUnion. In addition, you'll find some more info about credit ratings and credit scores at http://www.myfico.com/ (OOPS! 2018 Update: myfico charges; get free scores at CreditKarma.com).  I also found a Government website with good information about protecting your identity: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/ .

2012 Add-on: I just learned about Freezing Your Credit, which sounds like the best possible way to protect against Identify Theft - assuming you don't need frequent credit checks. Since we're retired and seldom apply for credit anymore, I froze mine. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_freeze to read all about it. As it turns out, the Equifax and Experian cost $10 to freeze and $10 every time you want to unfreeze. TransUnion is free. Innovis wouldn't work and I've never heard of them anyway. The Wikipedia article explains all about it and make it simple to do.

Also, related, I read a thing about the dangers of using the same password for several accounts. It seems that some of the more nefarious webmasters are setting up free websites where you can get something of value (information, discounts, coupons, or whatever), but you have to create an account with username and password. They then capture your password and try it on some of your bank accounts, etc. Many of us use the same password for many accounts, just to make it easier to remember - as of now, I'm changing that practice.

2013 Add-on: FYI - Decided to change to DirectTV last month and learned that I'd have to unfreeze credit. I unfroze all three with a phone call to each and nobody charged me. When you unfreeze, you can specify how long and it will automatically refreeze.

2016 Add-on: Well, I've noted a couple of problems with this credit freezing. Firstly, I was in Best Buy and they offered me a discount if I'd apply for a credit card, so I did. It was refused -- due to my credit freeze. It wasn't worth the trouble to unfreeze it, so I just skipped the discount. Then, later, I realized that my wife had gotten a couple of new credit cards, which meant that her credit isn't frozen. Just freezing mine and not hers kind of defeats the purpose, since we're still unprotected. I didn't even attempt to convince her I should freeze hers, so I decided to just unfreeze and take my chances. We're retired and living on Social Security now anyway, so I'm not sure our identity is worth stealing ... LOL

2017Add-on: https://www.comparitech.com/identity-theft-protection/identity-fraud-protection-resources/

2018 Add-on: https://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/news-resources/10-tips-protect-yourself-from-identity-theft/

Retirement Tips
IDENTIFY THEFT PROTECTION
I received this through email a while back and though I can't vouch for the original source of the information, it sounds like solid advice.  I thought I would pass it on.

A corporate attorney sent the following out to the employees in his company:

The next time you order checks, have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your check book, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.

Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone.  If you have a PO Box, use that instead of your home address.  If you do not have a PO Box use your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks (DUH!) - you can add it if it is necessary.  But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.

Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine, do both sides of each license, credit card, etc.  You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel.  Keep the photocopy in a safe place.  I also carry a photocopy of my passport when I travel either here or abroad.

We've all heard horror stories about fraud that's committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards, etc. Unfortunately I, an attorney, have first hand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month.  Within a week, the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online, and more.