The Federal Trade Commission released a survey yesterday saying more than 27 million people became victims of identity theft in the last five years, costing individuals $5 billion, and businesses and financial institutions $48 billion. Last year alone, 9.9 million people became victims.

Inc. columnist Robert X. Cringley warned readers of the growing threat of identify theft in his August 2003 column. In it he notes that computers and lax data management by the government as two reasons identity theft is so prevalent. He also recounts how he was able to collect, within one hour, enough information to steal 300,000 individuals' identities -- 300,000!

It's shocking how easy -- and quickly -- one can collect enough personal information to steal an identity. Cringely suggests that some sort of secure identity verification will have to be developed to thwart these crimes, but until then, we'll have to become more aware of the problem and ways to avoid it.

Here are a few websites you can visit to find out how you can avoid becoming a victim and to discover if you've been victimized already. offers advice on what to do if identity has been stolen, tips on how to detect personal identity theft, information on recent scams, and a slew of online resources you can consult for further information. has a dropdown menu of all of the agencies and institutions you should contact if you suspect your identity has been stolen, as well as useful advice and information on preventing and dealing with identity theft.

The U.S. Department of Justice offers information on identity theft including what you can do about it. It also highlights what the USDOJ is doing about it.

The FTC has an "ID Theft" website, providing information on individual identity theft as well as a "soon to be released" section on business relevant information.