Unless you've been living in a hermetically sealed sensory-deprivation tank during the past month or so of news cycles (wouldn't it be nice?), you've no doubt heard that the private -- and identifying -- information of some 26.5 million veterans was recently stolen.

Outrageous, no? Outrageous, yes, not least because it potentially exposes each of those vets to identity theft, a crime that, in 2005, once again led the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) list of consumer complaints.

Scandal, scandal everywhere
Great, just great, I hear many of you saying.

In addition to worrying about the kind of shenanigans that have been alleged in recent years at the likes of American International Group (NYSE:AIG), Tyco International (NYSE:TYC), and Qwest (NYSE:Q) -- not to mention Imclone Systems (NASDAQ:IMCL), Global Crossing (NASDAQ:GLBC), and Marsh & McLennan (NYSE:MMC) -- you now have to worry about something that hits a lot closer to home: a potential for an "evil twin," an imposter who could be dragging your good name and credit rating through the mud.

Fight plan
Fortunately, there are ways to fight back.

The FTC has an entire website dedicated to helping you "deter, detect, and defend" against identity theft. If you suspect you've been compromised, the FTC suggests (among other things) that you:

  1. Place a fraud alert on your credit report.
  2. Shut down any illegitimately opened accounts.
  3. Report the theft to local law enforcement and to the FTC.

The Fool's take
We at the Fool take identity theft seriously and encourage you to do the same. With that in mind, we've prepared a Fool's guide to avoiding the crime, one that also covers the smartest steps to take if, alas, you fear the theft has already occurred.

As with corporate malfeasance, there's no silver bullet for preventing identity theft. But taken together with the FTC's website, our free report -- How to Protect Your Identity From Being Stolen and Your Credit From Being Wrecked -- should put you in a good position to fend off wily identify thieves.

The problem isn't going away, after all, and considering that you could spend up to $1,400 (and countless hours of frustration and tedium) restoring your good name after the fact, you owe it to yourself to get the inside scoop on what to do now.

Just click right here to snag the report and learn how to put the kibosh on your evil twin. I always did have a funny feeling about that guy ...

Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service, and at the time of publication didn't own any of the securities mentioned above. Tyco is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy by clicking right here.