Let’s consider what to do if you think your identity has been stolen and how to reduce the chance of that happening.

The first step is to call your bank and credit card company as soon as possible. Tell them why you think that you’re an identity theft victim and get their suggestions. They deal with this frequently and they are experts.

Different banks and credit card companies will have different procedures. In most cases, they will freeze the accounts in question to prevent further loss.

Next, contact the police. Identity theft is a crime and you will often need police involvement as a requirement of your bank.

In the worst case, you may need to hire a lawyer to help deal with the banks. This is usually only required in cases of a major loss, for example, if someone has used your identity to sell your house or take out another large mortgage. A lawyer may also be helpful in dealing with the paperwork involved to prove that you were not the one responsible for purchases or accounts.

However, prevention is a lot easier than dealing with the consequences later. Here are some simple steps you can take.

The first is to get a locking mailbox. This prevents thieves from stealing bills or credit card statements for the purposes of obtaining your personal information or preventing you from discovering that bills are being rung up in your name. They aren’t very expensive.

Another low-cost step is to purchase a shredder. Any mail that personally identifies you and can be used to impersonate you should be destroyed. An effective shredder can be found for about $20.

Care should also be taken with financial websites you log onto for business purposes. Be sure to check the address bar on your web browser to ensure you are logging onto the correct site, and not an illegitimate, but very convincing copy.

Take steps to prevent phishing. The main aim of phishing sites (seeWhat’s Up Yukon, October 25) is to gain information to be used by identity thieves.

Obtain a copy of your credit history once a year. This will let you know what credit is in your name and the companies that have checked your credit report. The two main credit bureaus in Canada, Equifax and Transunion, will both provide a free copy of your credit report by mail. Forms are available on each of their websites, but make sure you are on their Canadian websites. Look for entries that you do not recognize or seem odd.

If something does happen, don’t panic. Taking steps quickly is important to limit the inconvenience that will arise from identity theft. Remember that the law, although it can move slowly at times, is on your side.

Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.