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Avoiding identity theft: What to do if your personal info is lost or stolen

The worst has happened: your purse is gone and with it all of your credit cards, banking information, and even your social security number. While this isn't a time to sit around doing nothing, you don't need to panic, either. You can minimize the potential for identity theft if you act quickly.

Financial accounts: Close accounts, like credit card and bank accounts, immediately. When you open new accounts, place passwords on them. Avoid using your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

Social Security number: Call the toll-free fraud number of any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. An alert can help stop someone from opening new credit accounts in your name.

Driver's license and other government-issued identification, like a passport: Contact the agency that issued the license or other identification document. Follow its procedures to cancel the document and to get a replacement. Ask the agency to flag your file so that no one else can get a license or any other identification document from them in your name.

Once you have taken these precautions, watch for signs that your information is being misused and that your identity has been stolen such as unusual charges on existing accounts, and bills and bank statements not showing up in your mailbox on time.

If your information has been misused, file a report about the theft with the police, and file a complaint with the FTC, as well. If another crime was committed -- for example, if your purse or wallet was stolen or your house or car was broken into -- report it to the police immediately.

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