From his Oregon jail cell, an inmate talked about how he grew an identity theft ring into a so-called “family” that doled out hugs and cash. The money and cash, he said, were a potent brew for loyalty among the thieves.

Identity theft is a growing problem for all of us. But the real problem is that the thieves constantly invent new ways to trick us out of our personal information. Phishing, vishing, a call about missing jury duty, or even an unattended mailbox can all result in personal financial information being stolen.

What can you do? Sometimes you can’t do anything, especially if companies and government institutions lose laptops. But you can take some steps to protect yourself:

First, never store personal information, credit card numbers, your social security number or computer passwords on a laptop – unless it is encrypted.

Next, monitor your credit card accounts online and check your credit history frequently using

With practical, informative consumer advice, I’m Ilyce Glink, News-Talk 750 WSB