Reality is beginning to set in with the general public. Widely publicized recent breaches of personal information like the theft of 2.3 million Fidelity customer records and the loss of 45.7 million credit and debit card numbers at TJ Maxx have brought growing public attention to the true vulnerability of personal information. These alarming numbers suggest that it’s no longer a question of if your personal information will be leaked but when.

The credit bureau’s standard advice that if you don’t give out your personal information to strangers and keep an eye on your credit reports you’ll be safe, just doesn’t wash anymore. The truth is, with the easy availability of information on the internet your social security number and other personal information are hardly more secure than your personal phone number. Yet denial and resistance to this truth seems alive and well in some circles.

The speed at which identity thieves can operate when exploiting your personal information or requesting new credit accounts in your name, in minutes not days, demands a proactive solution well beyond passive credit monitoring and the industry has just started to respond in the past couple of years. With the passage of changes to the Fair Credit Reporting Act in 2003, including new sweeping abilities to add fraud alerts and credit freezes, consumers finally have been given the tools to help stem the tide even before their information is compromised.

Consumers can take advantage of this new ability to place 90 day fraud alerts on their credit reports or even request permanent credit freezes if deemed necessary. These credit protection steps, once thought to be extreme measures, are even becoming the basis for entirely new business models implemented through companies like Debix and LifeLock. Sadly, the identity theft situation will likely only get worse before it improves. Only a small fraction of consumers are even aware of their new capabilities under the law, let alone having considered whether or not to take advantage of them.