Score one for the Feds in the war against identity theft. Last week, the Associated Press reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs has recovered a stolen laptop that contained sensitive personal data on 26.5 million veterans, raising the specter of a massive ID heist.

So far, that hasn't come to pass. And the FBI says the database in the stolen laptop wasn't accessed. Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has even gone so far as to say that vets can now "breathe a sigh of relief."

Really? I'm not so sure, Congressman. On Thursday, tech trade publication InfoWorld reported a list of ways that hackers could have compromised the laptop's hard drive without leaving a trace of evidence. All of them seem entirely credible to me.

For their part, veterans groups are expressing both gratitude and cautious optimism. And many, the AP says, are still demanding that the government provide free credit monitoring.

What a wonderful idea. The ugly truth is that ID thieves are both creative and resourceful, and the only deterrent is regular monitoring of your credit files. There are a number of ways to do that, of course. Start by visiting our free Credit Center. Then be sure to check the resources available at credit bureaus Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. And, finally, stay vigilant, veterans. This isn't over.

Stay Foolish with more tips for preventing ID theft:

Fool contributor Tim Beyers thinks identity crooks ought to be locked up with the murderers. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out which stocks he owns by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.