We’ve heard that identity theft is on the rise and after hearing it’s getting more intense and more sophisticated, we thought we’d look into it and see just what these latest efforts are those unscrupulous people willing to go to these lengths to steal another’s identity.

More than 27 million Americans have been a victim of identity theft in the past five years alone. And those people are finding out that their identities have been compromised in a number of ways, including 52% of them learning about it through their own diligence of checking their credit reports.

A quarter of them were notified via their banks or credit card companies and less than 10% found out only after they were denied credit. But these days, people are stealing identities for reasons that might surprise you.

Sure, they’re still wanting to steal via buying new cars or opening up bank and credit card accounts, but a growing concern is that these identities are buying people into the United States. Another trend is found in those looking for medical services.

For those who are seeking medical attention, there’s a new problem – when a hospital or physician accesses a patient’s records, it’s discovered that patient might have other medical considerations and as a result, treatments are being given to the thieves that might not be in their best medical interest.

For instance, one woman in Florida was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. When another woman showed up flashing information that said she was the cancer patient, doctors treated her as though she indeed had cancer.

Only problem was, the identity of the cancer patient had been stolen and was being used by a woman who’s never had cancer. The victim had no idea her identity had been stolen until she began receiving medical bills and documents in the mail for the treatment she never received in a city she’d never even been to.

Another growing problem is the number of thieves who are using stolen identities when they get arrested. Imagine going into work on a Monday morning, only to be met by armed police officers there to arrest you for bank robbery. Think it can’t happen to you? It’s already happening – and the number of victims are on the rise.

According to the government, identity thieves are often discovered to be family members, career criminals the victim has never met or even criminals who’ve simply scoured the public records database in a community.

Many of the victims are those who’ve never even had so much as a speeding ticket, but who are now having to shell out money for lawyers, having to fight for their jobs when their employer discovers an employee has been arrested or worse, having to hire legal representation to get a job back that they lost because of nothing they had done wrong.

Believe it or not, protecting your identity isn’t a complicated mind game. The little things, say experts, are what keep identity thieves at bay. A few ways to do this include changing your online passwords – all of them – every few months. This is huge, say those experts, and can virtually eliminate any possibility of you becoming a victim.

Also, be careful what you share on social media sites. Sounds simple enough, but plunder through a few of your friends Facebook profiles and odds are, you’ll learn their email addresses (multiple email addresses, at times), their cell numbers and other information they’d never dream giving out to strangers. And make no mistake – Facebook and the other networking sites aren’t that difficult to break into.

One analysts reminds readers that even Sarah Palin’s email was easily hacked once the thieves gained access to information such as birthdays, childrens’ names and the high school she attended.

Here’s one thing many people aren’t aware of – those secret questions you’re asked to provide answers to, like the name of your high school or the city you were born in? Those are the answers found on Facebook.

Instead of providing truthful answers, define a few words that you can alternate in place of the actual true school names. For instance, instead of using “Chicago High School”, use “my high school” as the answer or instead of providing the actual city name you were born in, use something like, “I was born in a city”.

Same thing goes with your mother’s maiden name. We checked with our staff – we all have our mothers as our friends on Facebook – and they all have their maiden names listed. That’s all a thief needs to do to find those answers – troll your Facebook account.

Many of us have our Facebook accounts set to public and we shouldn’t have to apologize for that but we do have an obligation to protect ourselves and that means approaching it from other aspects.

A few other expert tips include:

  • Skip the one click shopping option;
  • Don’t use the same passwords for all of your online accounts;
  • Avoid email links and instead type the site into the browser bar;
  • Change your passwords every few months;
  • Use passwords on your smartphones – they’re especially vulnerable.

With the holidays right around the corner, this is an ideal time to make those changes to ensure you don’t fall victim to identity theft.