These days we are all worried about money. How to make more, how to weather this financial storm and how to make the money we do have go farther. But do we do when none of the plans we’ve made matter and crime comes out of nowhere instantly changing everything?

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country claiming around 10 million victims in the US last year. The crime strikes without warning; it’s silent and sneaks up from behind destroying everything in its path including all our plans.

What happens when identity theft comes for you? Don’t think it will?

Buzzzzz.

Wrong answer.

The numbers of victims each year isn’t decreasing and chances are it’s just a matter of time before this crime finds you. Are you prepared? Identity theft is an equal opportunity crime. It doesn’t care where you live, who you know, where you were educated, what kind of job you have, how much money you’ve got the bank nor does it care what your plans are.

You may be thinking, but how could identity theft destroy my financial future? I’m smart and capable. If it happens to me, I’ll contact the company or credit bureau and tell them something is wrong and they’ll fix it. I’ll contact the police and they will find the person who did this and hold them accountable. Sorry to burst your bubble, but this is the real world and identity theft victims have to fight to regain their lives. Are you ready to get into the ring? Many victims will tell you this fight has tested their will, their patience and depleted their finances.

Wait a minute. What about that guy I’ve seen all over TV saying their company can protect my identity? Sure, there are plenty of companies that have popped up claiming they can protect or prevent you from becoming a victim for a fee. They’ve got a great pitch and fancy salesmen, but it’s pretty much a bunch of hoo-ha. There is no such thing as absolute protection from identity theft and no one is a better advocate for you than you.

I think a story will help put this all into perspective. Over the past three years, the Identity Theft Action Council has seen all types of identity theft victims. I’ll highlight one story of a young woman whose future evaporated into thin air one summer day 9 years ago.

Joanna was a carefree 17 year-old visiting family in Mexico just as she did every summer, but the summer of 2000 turned out to be very different. Someone stole her birth certificate and social security card. What happened in the years to follow is like something straight out of Hollywood. Soon after the documents were stolen, they were purchased on the black market by a young woman who entered the United States illegally.

Joanna’s list of damage is long and includes IRS bills for back taxes, cell phones, credit cards, cars and medical bills. To the government and law enforcement, Joanna was just one victim in millions. It became very clear the only way Joanna was going to get her life back was to fight for it. With help from our friends at America’s Most Wanted, we are hopeful Joanna’s will soon find the justice she deserves. Watch the full episode (episode 2236) and listen to Joanna tell her story.

After watching Joanna’s story, it will become clear how identity theft can take hopes, dreams and plans for your future and destroy them all instantly.

There’s no simple one size fits all answer to solving the identity theft crisis in our country and burying our head in the sand hoping thieves will choose someone else isn’t going to work. What we can do is educate ourselves about steps we can take to reduce our risk. The bottom line is consumers need help creating a better plan because after all, it’s our money at stake.

To learn more about protecting your identity be sure to check out Consumers Union’s page and Identity Theft Action Council