ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Rock Island, Ill. -- Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number or credit/debit card number without your permission. The Federal Trade Commission currently estimates that nearly 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. That means that close to one in 35 Americans have their identities stolen each year.

The legal ramifications are serious and you might not find out for weeks or months. The impact to an individual's financial health, and credit report can be very serious. Some individuals can lose job opportunities or the opportunity to buy a home. How can you protect yourself' First one needs to know how identities are generally stolen.

The main avenues identity thieves use and simple steps you can use to thwart such thieves are as follows.

1. Dumpster diving: Rummaging through garbage looking for bills or other personal information on it. To counter this problem; consider a home shredder.

2. Skimming: Thieves will steal credit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card. To counter this problem do not let individuals process your bank card out of your presence.

3. Phishing: Thieves will pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal personal information. Also internet cafes or wifi-hotspots are also places where spy ware can be used to capture personal information. To counter, never give personal identification over the internet without encryption and never send information in a public internet place.

4. Changing your address: Thieves will divert your billing information to another location by completing a change of address form. Difficult to stop except by using encrypted on line

5. Old-fashioned stealing: Thieves steal wallets, purses, mail, computers, and cell phones. They will steal personnel records or bribe those who have access to them. To counter, maintain tight control over personal items in public areas especially during holiday travel.

6. Pretexting: Thieves and scammers will play on emotions to obtain personal information. To counter be aware of such scams and never give information over the telephone to anyone you do not know.

To gain more information on identity theft check out the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft web site: