As David Dahlstrom, a locksmith, lived a quiet life in a small town near Salt Lake City, Utah, police say that a man whole stole his identity lived as him for years, all the while racking up a long criminal record in Dahlstrom's name.
"I thought identity theft would never happen to me," he said. "Well, guess what? It happened."
Authorities believe Dahlstrom's saga may have begun in 1985 when he lost his wallet that containing his driver's license, social security card and birth certificate. But that was years before the first strange thing happened, a notice that a credit card application had been rejected. He hadn't applied for a card.
Over the next 10 years, he was told he'd crashed a rental car, had run up a string of unpaid parking tickets and was involved in a hit-and-run accident.
"I mean, it's every day. I was driving, I was worried. Every day. What else is going on? How much more of this is gonna ... happen?" he asked.
But more did happen. Last year, local police called him in and told him there was a warrant for his arrest in California.
"Traditional identity theft -- I think all of us think of as financial fraud, credit card fraud. That is very common," L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said. "But this is one of the most serious types where an individual steals your identity and goes out and commits crimes in your name."
The suspect, Yorck Rogge, was eventually caught, but Dahlstrom is still struggling to clear his name.
Dahlstrom is just one of an estimated 9 million victims of identity thefts each year. Many more people have had their identities stolen and don't even know it until their credit is ruined or the police come to arrest them for a crime they didn't commit.
"This is serious business and the damage to the victim is significant," Delgadillo said.
Identity thieves can be very creative.
Ron Hemphill stole identities for a living for 20 years before becoming an identity security consultant. One method he used was to record the license plates of expensive cars.
"I would go write the number down. That's a porsche, a BMW right there. I would take both of those, and once I had both of those numbers committed to memory now and now I would go, 'Now I can do a reverse search,'" he said.
Hemphill said from nothing more than a license plate, he can get a name and address and eventually a social security number, which allows him to be off and running with the identity of the owner of the luxury car.
"If i was going to steal someone's identity, first I'd want to make sure it was someone whose identity is worth stealing," he said.
As technology advances, there are always new and increasingly sophisticated ways for a determined bad guy to become you.
The suspect in the Dahlstrom case has not entered a plea and is scheduled to go to trial next week.
How to Protect Yourself
First, never, ever carry your social security card or birth certificate in your wallet. Leave them at home.
Shred documents with personal information on it, such as bank statements and credit card solicitations. Also, check your credit report at least twice a year.
Put only your initials on your personal checks, for example B. Weir, so if someone steals them, he or she won't know your full name.
Finally, don't sign the back of your credit card. Instead, write, "Requires Photo ID." That way merchants must ask for photo I.D. everytime your credit card is used. If someone who steals your credit card, they cannot forge your signature.