This week marks National Protect Your Identity Week, an effort of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), The National Association of Triads, Inc. and the National Sheriffs' Association to educate people about the dangers of identity theft and measures they can take to prevent it.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, identity theft occurs when someone steals a person's identifying information and uses it for his own personal gain. Identity theft is a crime, and it occurs in many forms, from government or medical identity theft, to criminal or financial identity theft.

Identity theft has become a major issue and has been the Federal Trade Commission's top complaint for the last twelve years, tallying 15 percent of its complaints. Identity theft is also on the rise: The Identity Theft Resource Center reports that in 2011, incidents of identity fraud increased by 13 percent.

The NFCC recently conducted a poll through its website and found that 64 percent of consumers are afraid of having their identities stolen.

"A healthy fear of ID theft is a good thing," said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC, in a statement. However, that fear should also spur consumers into action to protect themselves from experiencing identity theft.

During National Protect Your Identity Week, the NFCC puts together resources and events to help people make sure they take extra precaution in protecting their identities. One of the features on its website is a quiz to help consumers learn if they're at risk for being a target of identity theft, as well as videos and other consumer tips.

To celebrate the week, organizations around the country are hosting events about identity theft, including workshops on how to avoid it. Other events include responsible cell phone recycling, credit report reviews and shredding services shredding events where members of the community can bring their old bills and sensitive personal information to be shredded to prevent identity thieves from stealing and using it.

"Consumers can use this week to do one of their periodic check-ups to assess their vulnerability to identity theft, and use the resources at the Protect Your Identity Week Web site to identify simple steps to reduce their risk of being a victim of identity theft," said Thomas J. Curry, Comptroller of the Currency, in a statement.

The Federal Trade Commission also has brochures on its website, located at, that explain more about identity theft, what consumers should know about it, and what they can do to prevent it. The FTC advises making sure you check your credit reports regularly to make sure there's no unusual information on them. Also keep on top of what your bank and credit card statements say, as well as your explanation of medical benefits from your health plan. As you purge your files of outdated statements, be sure to shred them to avoid inadvertently sharing personal information with information thieves.

If you're a victim of identity theft, the Protect Your Identity Week website has more information on what you should do to cut down on the damage caused to your credit. First, contact Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting bureaus, and have a fraud alert put on your credit file. This also entitles you to get a free credit report so you can examine it for other inaccuracies.

You'll also need to contact your creditors, especially those where the account information has been stolen. These accounts will need to be closed, and you'll have to establish new accounts. It's also a good idea to report identity theft to the police and file a complaint with the FTC.

The Protect Your Identity Week website lists all events for the week and has more information and tips to help you be smart about identity theft.