Identity theft is the fastest growing type of fraud in Canada. It refers to the unauthorized attainment, possession or trafficking of personal information or the unauthorized use of information to create a false identity or to assume/takeover an existing identity in order to personally profit financially, with access to goods or services or to conceal criminal activities.
Statistics on fraud are kept by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. They reported identity theft losses of nearly $10.5 million in 2014 and already nearly $6.5 million in the first half of 2015. About one-quarter of cases involve credit card fraud, which is when a thief uses your credit card information to make purchases. Other cases include using your identity to open accounts or take out loans in your name. It can be very difficult to get your name cleared when you are a victim of identity theft; the process is onerous process and can take months or years to complete.
In order to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity fraud, there are many steps you can take to protect your identity. Buying identity theft insurance is an option, but there are many basic steps that you can take yourself to protect against identity theft and fraud.
Protect Your Online Identity
Many of us do our banking and shopping online. In order to protect your account numbers and passwords:
- Change your passwords regularly (at least every few months)
- Clear your internet browser, login user name and your passwords when you are done with an application. Don’t accept prompts that keep you logged in or remember your password. This is especially important after you have been working on a public computer.
- Monitor your banking and credit card transaction statements regularly so you are alerted immediately if something unusual occurs. If you detect fraudulent activity, notify the effected institution to have the account suspended and investigated.
- Contact the institution you do business with (e.g., bank or utility company) if you are unable to access your account and confirm your contact information with them. Identity bandits could complete change of address forms in order to prevent you from being aware of delinquent credit notices they have caused.
- Pay for online purchases using an intermediary, such as PayPal or your credit card, which has better protections in place than your debit card.
- Be alert for phishing, whereby spam emails or texts or pop-ups mimic legitimate banks or businesses in order to obtain your personal information to access your accounts. Always verify that you’re on a familiar Web site with security controls before entering personal data.
- Use privacy settings on social media accounts, do not list identifying information such as your full birth date and to connect only with the people you know.
Protect Your Electronic Devices, Including Your Phone, Lap Tops and Desk Top
- Protect each electronic device with a user name and strong password (e.g., don’t use your year of birth). Do not share your password or store it where it is visible or easy to find.
- Protect your devices with internet security, anti-spyware and anti-virus software, with a two way firewall enabled.
- Protect your devices with a remote control setting if it becomes lost or stolen (e.g., find my iPhone app).
- Remove old, unused and unnecessary files, accounts and applications and erase the memory completely if you are donating or recycling an old computer.
- Don’t store important documents, photos and tax returns on your device and instead store them on a secure site or external hard drive.
Protect Physical Documents
- Reduce the amount of confidential information that is received and sent from your home by switching to paperless statements and making online bill payments. Managing your bills on line also helps to reduce the risk that your confidential information ends up in the recycling or trash.
- Never carry more than necessary in your wallet in the event that it gets lost or stolen. Don’t store personal identification numbers, passwords or any unnecessary identification documents (e.g., SIN card or birth certificate) in your wallet. Carry only the cash you need and a debit credit, credit card or mobile phone tag if you prefer.
- Important documents should be kept in a safety deposit box in a financial institution or a fire-proof locked safe, including passports, birth and marriage certificates, Wills, property deeds, domestic contracts, separation agreements, investment certificates and any business information.
- Shred all existing sensitive paper documents you don’t need, including bank statements, bills, cheques, pay statements, tax returns, old photo IDs. Shred anything else you don’t need that contains your personal information, such as your name, address, account numbers, birth date or social insurance number. Be sure to check and shred any junk mail with personal information, including credit card applications.
Be Proactive and Vigilant
- Obtain and check your free credit report from Equifax and Transunion each year. If you see anything suspicious (e.g., fraudulent activity or inquiries) that occurred in your name, then discuss it with the credit bureau. You may need to a fraud alert placed on your file and contact the police and your financial institutions.
- Do not give personal or financial information when you receive an unsolicited phone calls, texts, email, mail, or when a door-to-door salesperson comes to your place. Report suspicious activity to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
- Be careful in public when using your cell phone. Don’t give out financial information or travel plans. Use a private landline or closed telephone booth for privacy when needed.
How We Can Help
At Faber, we take pride in sharing our knowledge and expertise. Our aim here is to provide awareness and education about identity theft and fraud. At Faber, we provide debt solutions, including personal bankruptcy, consumer proposals, orderly payment of debt, debt consolidation loans, credit counselling and foreclosures. We have 16 offices across the province that can provide you with immediate debt relief. Call us for your free consultation at 1.877.944.1177.