When They Say They're You
Protecting yourself from Identity Theft
Every year, thousands of people fall victim to identity theft. And during the busy holiday season, you're more at risk than at any other time. With all the hustle and bustle, and multiple shopping trips, you have to be particularly careful about who gets what information.
How can someone steal your identity? By co-opting your name, social insurance number, credit card number, or some other piece of personal information, which they then use without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft. Sadly, once you become aware of what's going on, you have to prove it wasn't you before the whole thing will go away.
It's remarkably easy for people to find out what they need to know to take on your identity. Identity thieves look through your trash at home or at work, retrieving discarded bills, mail, or credit applications. They go through your mailbox. They call you and, pretending to work for a bank, credit-reporting or government agency, ask for personal information. They steal your credit card numbers off receipts, your driver's license number from the back of cheques, your ATM or telephone cards, and use them to impersonate you. "Shoulder surfing," "Skimming", and "Spoofing" are all new financial terms and they all relate to how identity thieves practice their art.
Once they have access to your personal information, they can open up a new credit card account. When they use the credit card and don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. In some cases, thieves have called credit card issuers and, pretending to be the victim, changed the mailing address on credit card accounts. Since the bills are being sent to a new address, the victim doesn't immediately realize there's a problem. People have had imposters establish cellular phone service in their names, or even open a bank account and write bad checks on the account.
Preventing Identity Theft
In this day and age of wide-open everything, we may have become a little too free about giving out our personal information. While it may make you sound like a control freak, when you're asked to provide personal information find out how it will be used, why it is needed, who will be sharing it and how it will be safeguarded.
- Instead of toting around a wallet full of personal information, carry only the minimum. Store everything else in a safe deposit box at the bank. Be particularly careful with your SIN card.
- Shred or destroy papers that have your personal information on them, including promotional offers for new cards that you may receive in the mail.
- Avoid giving out your credit card by phone unless you're sure whom you're dealing with.
- Sign all credit cards as soon as you receive them and NEVER lend your credit (or debit) card to anyone. If you have cards you're not using, destroy them and cancel the account. Keep a list of your credit card numbers in a safe place.
- Only carry documentation you actually need around with you. You don't need your social insurance card (Canada) or social security card (U.S.), so take them out of your wallet. Ditto your passport.
- Pay attention to your billing cycle. If credit card or utility bills fail to arrive, contact the companies to ensure that they have not been illicitly redirected.
- Always review your credit card bill to make sure there aren't any charges you aren't familiar with.
- Shred all personal information before you toss it.
- Check your credit bureau report at least once a year to ensure it's accurate and doesn't include debts you know nothing about. And change your account passwords a couple of times each year. Don't use family names or birthdates… pick something obscure.
If you believe your identity has been stolen, report the crime to the police immediately and ask for a copy of the police report for when you contact your creditors. Then call your creditors. All of them. And tell them what's going on. Contact your local credit bureaus, too, and ask that a fraud alert be put on your file and that no new credit be granted with contacting you first. (see Resources) Keep a written log of everyone you speak to as you're trying to rectify the matter.
Cancel all your credit cards and get new ones issued. And close your bank accounts and open new ones. Get new bank machine and telephone calling cards. And advise your telephone, cable, and utilities that someone using your name could try to open new accounts fraudulently. If you suspect that your mail is being diverted, contact Canada Post. If you think your SIN has been compromised, contact Human Resources Development Canada.
After the problem has been resolved, request another copy of your credit profile so you can be sure all changes and corrections have been made.
You don't have to be paranoid about someone stealing your credit identity. You just need to be careful so you're not an easy target. Taking some simple steps will help to minimize the chances of you falling prey to this ever-growing problem.
Equifax Canada Report fraud
Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Hotline
Toll free: 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)
Equifax Report fraud:
Experian Report fraud: