Identity theft and fraud – top ways to protect yourself and recover from it

Publish date April 18, 2018

A person enters his credit card number into his cell phone

There’s no doubt that technology makes spending, saving and investing money easier. But along with that convenience comes the risk of identity theft and fraud.  

Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information to commit a crime such, as gaining access to your financial information, hacking into your online accounts and/or defrauding others.

Fraud is any deliberate deception intended to result in financial or personal gain. It’s a crime that threatens all of us, regardless of education, age or income. From January 2014 to December 2017, it’s estimated Canadians lost more than $405 million to fraudsters.1

“People need to be vigilant, not only by acquiring the knowledge to spot and stop fraud but also by reporting these crimes,” Josee Rousseau, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Supervisor, Call Centre and Intake Unit, told Huffington Post Canada. “Your information could help law enforcement stop a new form of fraud in its tracks.”2

How criminals can hurt you

Once they get your personal information, identity thieves can also spend your money or open new accounts, change your passwords and contact information, apply for loans, credit cards and benefits in your name, rent an apartment or car, or commit other crimes using your credentials.

Another form of identity fraud is when someone sets up an online account using your name, image and/or other information. It can harm your reputation, like when a prospective employer does a background check on you.

How to tell if your identity or financial information has been compromised

You may find out you’ve been the victim of identity theft when you’re unexpectedly denied a loan, job or rental because of a credit check. That’s why you should check your credit report once a year for errors or strange activity.

You may not get bills and statements when they’re supposed to arrive. They may have been stolen from your mailbox or someone may have changed the mailing address for your accounts.

You may get calls from collection agencies or creditors for an account you don't have.

Your bank or credit card company may notify you about a new account in your name, or unfamiliar charges.

Your financial statements may show transactions you didn't make. Or a creditor may call to say you've been approved or denied credit that you haven't applied for.

How to recover from identity theft

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) suggest that if you suspect or know your personal or financial information has been stolen, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.

You should also contact your local police department and file a report with them.

You may also wish to contact both Equifax Opens a new website in a new window and TransUnion Opens a new website in a new window — the two main credit reporting agencies in Canada — to set up a fraud alert on your credit file.  This provides additional security because lenders must call you to approve new credit. As proof that more Canadians are choosing this strategy, Equifax reports that customers who set up a fraud alert increased by 28% in 2016.3

Plus, always report identity theft and fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Opens a new website in a new window.

If you find out someone is impersonating you online, check with the social network or website to find out how to remove the account. If criminal activity is involved – for example, if someone is creating fake online accounts in your name to harass you – take screenshots and file a report with local police.

12 ways to protect yourself

1. Only input your personal or banking information online by using secure websites and private wi-fi networks to decrease the chance a criminal can look at your information.

2. Review network and device security for all devices you use to bank, and update your internet security software. In the preferences for email, banking and social media apps, choose email and/or text alerts about all logins to your accounts from devices that aren’t linked to your accounts.

3. Check your bank and credit card accounts at least monthly and report suspicious activity immediately. This is quick and easy to do using online or mobile banking.

4. Create strong passwords with special characters and periodically change them.

5. Review your credit reports regularly and sign up for inquiry alerts with credit reporting agencies.

6. Store your social insurance number (SIN) card and other identity documents like your passport or birth certificate in a secure place — don't carry them around with you in your wallet or purse.

7. Be aware of phishing ­— unsolicited emails, text messages or phone calls attempting to extract personal or financial information. Criminals can even use your voice responses to circumvent voice biometrics security.

8. Shred confidential mail, especially credit card offers and documentation with personal or banking information (i.e., statements). Don’t just throw them out.

9. When paying by card, it's safer to swipe your card yourself rather than letting a cashier to do it for you. If you must hand over your card, never lose sight of it.

10. Always shield your personal identification number (PIN) when using an automatic banking machine or a PIN pad.

11. Memorize all PINs for payment and telephone calling cards. Never write them on the cards.

12. When you change your address, notify the post office and all relevant financial institutions (bank and credit card companies).

 

1 “Fraud Facts 2018 – Recognize, Reject, Report Fraud” Opens a new website in a new window, Government of Canada, Feb. 22, 2018

2 Cairine Wilson, “Waging War on Fraud and Identity Theft” Opens a new website in a new window, Huffington Post Canada, Mar. 18, 2016

3 “Fraud vigilance increasing among polled Canadians – Equifax Canada” Opens a new website in a new window, Canadian Underwriter, Feb. 28, 2017

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