Identity theft is on the rise. Don't lose yourself.
In recent years, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has received an average 10,000 identity fraud reports annually, totaling a loss of more than $10 million. It's a very real threat. And it's growing. Here are a few things you can do to help prevent it from happening to you.
Identity theft occurs when someone gathers your personal details to gain some kind of financial advantage, often leaving you with significant debt, a negative credit history and even legal implications. Criminals can use almost anything to "become" you: an address, date of birth, Social Insurance Number, utility bills, credit card receipts and other items with personal information on them.
How do they get it? They steal mail from your mailbox at home or by going through your garbage and recycling bins. They winkle it out of you through telephone or email scams. They shoulder surf your PIN number when you're at an ATM or debit terminal. Or they hack your computer and lift it out without your even knowing. And take note, almost half of the worst identity crimes are committed by people the victim knows.
Preventing identity theft – keeping the original you.
While you probably can't prevent identity theft entirely, you can certainly minimize your risk. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against it. Here are a few tips.
- Bank online. One of the best ways to ensure your financial documents don't fall into the wrong hands is to eliminate as much mail as possible. Go paperless. Request that your bills and statements no longer be mailed and access them online through the companies' secure websites. Another option is to receive your bills via epost. Whichever route you choose, you'll be helping the environment while you're at it.
- Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know whom you're dealing with. And before you reveal any personal identification information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared.
- Give your social insurance number (SIN) only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.
- Protect your privacy whenever you're online. Avoid websites that memorize your password. This could give other users of your computer access to your accounts.
- Avoid accessing your accounts using WiFi or public Internet ports, such as Internet cafes, libraries, and airports.
- Minimize the identification information and number of cards you carry. Never carry your SIN card; memorize your number and leave the card in a secure place. And remove those paper cheques if you can – if you still use them, only keep a small amount of cash in that account.
- Use passwords on everything – your computer, your tablet, your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Never use easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SIN or your phone number. For online purchases with Mastercard®, sign up for SecureCode.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. Better yet, sign up for epost or online billing. Review your account statements and/or online account transaction details promptly and report any discrepancies immediately.
- Guard your mail. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Never leave mail uncollected for more than a day. Ensure mail is forwarded or re-routed if you move or change your mailing address.
- Keep tax records and other financial documents in a secure place, preferably with a lock. Don't leave bills or papers on tables in restaurants or on the seat in your vehicle where they can be stolen. And minimize the amount of personal data you store on your computer or mobile device.
- Watch what you share on social sites. Even selecting the tightest privacy settings on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn doesn't guarantee your information won't be exposed. Small pieces of information like the date and place of your birth can be used to predict your social insurance number.
- Shred unwanted financial papers. An identity thief will pick through your garbage or recycling bins. Be sure to tear or shred receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements and credit offers you get in the mail.
- Report any loss or theft of documents, such as your driver's license, credit card or passport, immediately to the issuer.
- Request a copy of your credit bureau file every year from Equifax (1.800.465.7166) or TransUnion (1.800.663.9980). You can go to their website, and for a nominal fee, get a credit report that shows if there has been any unauthorized credit opened in your name. For an additional charge you can obtain your credit score.
- Cancel all unused or dormant accounts.
Is there another you out there already?
The signs are many, but here are a few typical indicators that someone is using your identity:
- A creditor informs you that an application for credit was received with your name and address, for which you did not apply.
- Telephone calls or letters state that you have been approved or denied by a creditor to whom you never applied.
- You receive credit card statements or other bills in your name, for which you did not apply.
- You no longer receive credit card statements or you notice that not all of your mail is delivered.
- A collection agency informs you they are collecting for a defaulted account that you never opened.
What to do if you suspect identity theft.
- Contact your financial institution immediately if you suspect any fraudulent activity or theft of your identifying documents. BlueShore Financial members can call our Solution Centre at 604.982.8000 or toll-free 1.888.713.6728.
- Inform the police.
- Contact your creditors, such as credit card companies, major stores and any other companies you may have accounts with.
- Contact Equifax and TransUnion to report potential fraud.
- If your mail is missing, contact Canada Post at 1.800.267.1177.