What Is Identity Theft and How to Protect Yourself From It?
Incidents of identity theft have been steadily increasing over the past few years. It is more important than ever to protect yourself from fraud. There are many ways in which you can prevent having your identity stolen. And specific steps you will want to take in case you are ever the victim of identity theft.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a crime in which someone (other than you) uses your personal information to commit fraud. Identity theft is also known as stolen identity.
Identity thieves will look to gain access to your name, Social Insurance Number, birth certificate, passwords, account numbers, address, driver’s license, and other personal information. Whenever possible, keep this information as safe as you can.
The more information identity thieves can obtain, the more significant damage they can do.
Once identity thieves steal your identity, they can use your personal information to access your financial accounts, other online accounts, defraud others, accumulate debt or apply for credit cards in your name, and even affect your criminal record.
How to Prevent Identity Theft?
Being diligent with your personal information is vital to preventing identity theft. Here are some other things you can do to prevent the theft of your personal information:
- Don’t give access or share your personal information or online accounts to anyone (not even your spouse)
- Shred all credit card and debit card receipts. Don’t just throw them in the trash.
- Don’t just throw out mailers, credit card offers, or applications with your address on them – shred these too.
- Never leave your personal information (wallet/purse) unattended
- Don’t sign in to your financial accounts on a public computer or public wi-fi
- Sign up for a credit monitoring service to get an email alert as soon as possible fraud is detected
- Regularly check your bank accounts and statements for fraud or errors
- Avoid phishing scams by not clicking internet or text message links you are unsure of, or that come from strange sources
- Be sure to cancel your inactive accounts
- Don’t use your Social Insurance Number as an account identifier
- Keep your savings, chequing, and investment accounts separate. That way, if a thief gains access to one account, they don’t gain access to everything.
- Memorize your PIN and avoid writing it down
- Use strong online passwords – don’t share or reuse them
- Avoid using identifiable information (such as birthdays) as your PIN or password
- Be careful about who you provide your personal information to
And finally, if something sounds too good to be true, chances are it is. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to sharing your personal information with anyone.
Monitoring Your Credit Report and Personal Information
You can manage risk and minimize damages caused by a stolen identity by catching it as soon as it happens. The longer a thief has unknown access to your personal information, the more havoc they can wreak on your credit and personal life.
There are 3 main ways you can catch any irregularities early, sign up with a credit monitoring agency, regularly keep track of your credit score, and check your credit report annually.
Sign Up With a Credit Monitoring Agency
Credit monitoring agencies will email you immediately if fraud is detected. This frees up your time as someone else is doing the monitoring. But be aware that this monitoring often comes with a monthly price.
Regularly Keep Track of Your Credit Score
If you are looking for a free option, sign up for credit score monitoring services such as Borrowell or Credit Karma. Both services will allow you to check your credit score for free regularly.
If you notice an unaccounted-for change in your credit score, it is time to dig into why it happened. And the sooner you catch an issue, the better.
Check Your Credit Report Annually
You are entitled to view your credit report for free once a year from both Canadian credit bureaus, Equifax and Transunion. Create a reminder to check your report with each agency at least once a year.
What to Do if You’re a Victim of Identity Theft?
Thieves are constantly becoming more sophisticated. Unfortunately, being cautious doesn’t always prevent identity fraud. If you do become a victim of identity theft, keep a record of everything that happened and all the steps you take.
Here are 10 more steps you can follow to ensure you minimize any damages.
Step 1 – Report the identity theft to the police and file a police report. Provide as much detail as you can in the report
Step 2 – Fill out an Identity Theft Statement
Step 3 – Seek out help from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Step 4 – Report the theft to your credit card company. Most will also allow you to freeze your cards through your online account sign-in immediately.
Step 5 – Notify your bank of the theft. They will have policies in place for what to do to minimize the risk potential of the fraud.
Step 6 – Contact Equifax and Transunion so that you can put a fraud alert on your credit report. This will prevent any new credit from being added without directly contacting you first.
Step 7 – Notify Service Canada if your Social Insurance Number has been involved or compromised.
Step 8 – Change all your online passwords. Remember not to reuse passwords.
Step 9 – Replace your drivers’ license, debit, and credit cards, and be sure not to reuse old PINs.
Step 10 – Closely monitor your credit report and credit score for the next few months.
If you suspect the theft of your personal information due to mail theft, make sure to contact Canada Post to report the theft.
How to Tell if Someone Else Has Access to Your Personal Information?
Not sure if someone else has access to your personal information? Here are some red flags to watch out for:
- Unknown charges on your credit card or bank statements
- Errors or signs of fraud on your credit report
- Your bills stop arriving by mail (this may be a sign someone has stolen your mail)
- Calls or mail for accounts or debts in your name that you did not apply for
- Denied credit application due to a credit check
- Notification from your bank or credit card issuer (they have robust algorithms to help detect fraud)
If you suspect any of these red flags, your personal information may have been compromised. You can never be too cautious. Follow the steps for what to do if you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
Identity Fraud Resources
If you or someone you know has been a victim of identity theft, here are some resources that may help.
- Canadian Anti-Fraud Center (1-800-495-8501)
- Service Canada (1-800-206-7218)
- Passport Canada (1-800-567-6868)
- Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (1-800-282-1376)
- Government of Canada (1-800-328-6189)
- Immigration & Citizenship Canada (1-800-255-4541)
- Canada Post (1-866-607-6301)
Much the same in the US. Someone filed for pandemic unemployment in my name. I’m retired and unemployed by choice, so not entitled to get those payments. I called the state office that handles that kind of fraud. I did have to get a police report and send that to the unemployment office. Great advice, no idea where the perp got my info but he was not successful in getting any illegal benefits.