This statistic is dated (Dec 2000), but according to the Identity Theft Clearinghouse, the average time it took for someone to notice identity theft had occurred to them was 14 months. Here is a short list of things you can do to minimize your risks.
Place passwords on your credit cards. Right now many credit companies use mother’s maiden name – ask to use a password instead. And then pick a password that uses numbers and letters.
Protect your paperwork at home and in the trash. Secure information you have on hand and destroy personal information before you toss it.
Avoid using your social security number whenever possible. Often companies (like your employer) will use your SSN as an identifier; simply ask them to use something else. Often they will.
If your computer is online make sure it is secure. (I’ll be going through steps to secure and back up your computer on New Years week.)
I created the list above from the FTC site, for more tips and details on protecting yourself, visit their site.