Identity theft is big business. In fact, B.C. has the highest incident rate of ID theft in the country -- and often these victims are targeted more than once.

Criminals can be clever.

Since your vital statistics rarely change -- like your name, address and phone number -- ID criminals are able to steal your information more than once.

And if you move, the criminals can figure out the new information and update your "file." This can go on and on.

Writer John Lenardon, who has written a book on identity theft, says it can take six to eight months to clean up the mess caused by having your identity stolen.

"After you clean it up, two years later it could all happen again because once your information is out there, it's out there forever," explained Lenardon, author of Identity Theft Tool Kit: How to Recover From and Avoid Identity Theft.

"It doesn't disappear because you've cleaned the mess up. So you are the only person that can actually protect yourself, nobody else can do it," he warned.

Identity theft often starts with mail theft, but not mail theft you may commonly think of when you hear the term.

"You may think they go in and steal your mail but in many cases they don't," Lenardon explained.

"They may go in, take your mail out, open the envelope, grab information, reseal the envelope and put it back. So you may not know for months that you've actually had your mail stolen."

The key is to not be a victim in the first place.

To lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, there are all sorts of things you can do: Everything from having a secure mailbox, to getting bills e-mailed to your home instead of mailed.

We also suggest using your debit card less and your credit card more because you have more protection with a credit card.

John Lenardon advises you start with your wallet and remove all unnecessary ID.

"I see people carrying around birth certificates, social insurance number cards," he said.

"I see people carrying around massive ID, none of that should be carried. You don't have to legally carry identification in Canada."

Other suggestions:

-Don't put personal information on social networking sites like Facebook

-Cross-cut shred all personal documents like bank statements before they go in the garbage

-Keep personal documents out of your car

-And while it sounds obvious, keep your personal information -- private.

"Everybody in this world is asking you for information. You go to a store and they ask you for phone numbers because of warranties, etcetera. Don't give it out," Lenardon said.

"The simplest thing you can do in this world is absolutely refuse to give away your information."

With something as simple as your phone number, scammers can do a reverse look up, find your address, and find all kinds of information.

Take our 60-second Identity Theft Risk Test to find out how at risk you might be, which John Lenardon developed it for his book. We list 25 statements.

If you agree -- check them off. Each one you check increases your risk of becoming a victim. It's a real eye opener.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Chris Olsen