What is Identity Theft?
According to the Department of the Solicitor General of Canada, identity theft refers to "all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain".
Identity theft can not only ruin your credit rating and stop you from being able to obtain loans and credit cards, but it can also be used as a way to further the interests of organized crime and terrorist groups. While the impacts are generally financial, people have committed crimes under assumed identities and caused legal problems for the victims.
Unexpected changes to your credit information are often the first signs that you could be at risk for identity theft and credit fraud. The best way to find out is to monitor your hard copy or on-line financial accounts frequently and to check your credit report regularly for any unusual activities. If you receive calls from collection agencies about unfamiliar accounts or if you applied for credit and were unexpectedly turned down, you should investigate further.
Two Canadian companies, TransUnion and Equifax, offer 24/7 monitoring of your credit information and alerts you to key changes to your credit profile, helping you to detect and protect against potential fraud.
Tips to Prevent Identity Theft
While there is no guaranteed strategy to avoid identity theft, you can minimize your risks and guard your personal information by following these tips.
- Deposit all outgoing mail in mailboxes or in the mailing slots at your local post office. Never leave bill payments in your room, office, or apartment lobby for the mail carrier to pick up. Before you leave on vacation, call or visit your post office and request that your mail be held until you return.
- Give out your Social Insurance number only when absolutely necessary – for example, on a job application or for your account. Do not include it when you are writing a personal check at a store or applying for membership at a video rental shop, grocery store price-saving club, and so on.
- Keep all your personal and account information in a safe place, preferably a locked drawer or cabinet. If you are having renovations, housecleaning, or other types of service work done, keep all your personal information out of sight.
- Shred credit card applications, health insurance statements, and anything else containing your Social Insurance number before discarding them.
- Never write your PIN (personal identification number) on the back of your card or on a piece of paper in your wallet or handbag.
- Do not choose a PIN that uses digits from your birth date, Social Insurance number, telephone number, or street address.
- Carry only the cards you think you’ll need on a given day, and keep them separate from your wallet-for example in a zippered compartment in your handbag or front pocket. If your wallet is stolen, your cards will not be lost.
- Keep a record of all your account numbers, expiration dates, and the phone number of each credit card issuer in a secure place for quick reference in case of loss or theft.
- When you make an online purchase, be sure you’re in a secure section of the Web site; the “http://” address should change to “https://” (the “s” strands for secure), and a lock or key symbol should appear in a lower corner of the Web page.
- Save your receipts, and when your billing statement comes, open it promptly and compare the two. If there is a charge you know you did not make, call the card issuer immediately and follow up by writing to their billing inquiries address and reporting it to the police.
- Sign your new or replacement card as soon as you receive it. Cut up the old card so the numbers cannot be read.
- Never write your account number on the outside of the payment envelope.
- Don’t give your account number over the phone unless you initiated the call to make a purchase, and you’re sure the company is reputable.
- Be alert for others looking over your shoulder or clerks who spend too much time looking at your card.
- Every year, order a copy of your credit report (about $9) from all three major credit-reporting agencies to make sure it is accurate.
Equifax Canada Credit Bureau
TransUnion Canada Credit Bureau