When you know the ID thief

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The safety of your personal information and your identity is always at risk. In fact, identity thieves may be even closer than you think. According to the Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC), for every five cases of identity theft, at least two victims knew the thief personally.

Identity theft is still the fastest growing crime in America; affecting more than 10 million victims a year. In 2007, the FTC reported a total of $1.2 billion in identity fraud losses, with the average individual losing $550 in out-of-pocket expenses. Furthermore, victims spent nearly 3.6 million hours resolving problems related to identity theft.

Overcoming identity theft is a difficult, complex and often frustrating process. The impact of the crime is significantly magnified when the imposter is someone you know and trust. In honor of National Protect Your Identity Week (October 19-25, 2008), consider the following proactive rules offered by the experts at Money Management International (MMI) to help keep your information safe:

Lock it up. Invest in a filing cabinet that locks. File all personal documents including credit card and bank statements, tax documents and any other financial paperwork kept at home.

Password protect your computer. Be sure to password protect your computer and all files on your hard drive pertaining to your finances. Change the passwords often and be sure to use a password that is not too easy to figure out.

Keep credit cards and PINs safe. Do not keep your PIN number in your wallet or anywhere near your debit and credit cards. Also, do not lend your card to others or share your PIN. If you have already made this mistake, call the issuer to get a new card and change the PIN.

Be picky about houseguests. Use caution when inviting strangers into your home. Be extra careful when choosing someone to housesit or pick up your mail when you are on vacation. Consider asking the post office to hold your mail when planning to be away for more than a few days.

Go paperless. Research shows that people who bank entirely online reduce their chances of becoming identity theft victims by about 10 percent. Also, consider investing in personal finance software to track expenses and pay bills online.

No one can completely protect themselves from all types of identity theft, so if you become a victim, time is of the essence. Acting quickly and thoroughly can limit the potentially far-reaching impact identity theft may have on your finances and life. For more information about protecting your good name and your good credit, visit .