Identity theft is a serious crime where your personal information—anything from your name, driver’s license, or Social Insurance Number—has been compromised by an impostor who intends to commit fraud in your name. With your Social Insurance Number, someone can easily obtain false lines of credit and rack up significant debt in your name. With a stolen identity, someone might hide behind your name in a legal matter, leaving you with a false criminal record. Identity fraud is a major problem, and it happens more often than you might think.
There are also several simple things you can do to significantly reduce your chances of becoming a victim of fraud.
In our increasingly technological society, identity theft is a growing trend. Take the time to protect yourself and your family. Here’s a few tips to help you.
1. Safeguard personal information
Keep your personal information safe, particularly your Social Insurance Number (SIN) and credit card and bank account numbers. Provide personal information only if you have initiated the contact. If you’re purchasing an item online, make sure that the site is secure. The address should have the prefix “https” and show a padlock.
2. Protect your passwords
Use different passwords for your credit card, bank and telephone accounts. Don’t write them down or disclose them to anyone. Keep them in a secure password app perhaps on your password protected smartphone.
3. Be credit card smart
Ask yourself if you really need all of the identity documents you carry in your wallet or purse. Remove any you don’t need and keep them in a secure place instead.
4. Secure your mail
Shred or destroy credit card receipts, utility bills and any documents containing personal or account information, as well as pre-approved credit card applications you don’t want. Trash bins are a goldmine for identity thieves. Make sure you shred personal and financial documents before putting them in the garbage.
5. Ensure computer and Internet security
Equip your computer with a “firewall,” which prevents outsiders from accessing the data on your computer. Deal only with reputable, established companies when using the Internet for credit card purchases or banking transactions. Look for digital signatures, data encryption and other technology that enhances user security.
6. Review your records regularly
Check your bank and credit card statements as soon as they arrive on online. Report any discrepancies immediately.
7. Check your credit rating
At least once a year, obtain a copy of your credit report and make sure that it is accurate. Canada has two national credit bureaus: Equifax Canada (1-800-465-7166, www.equifax.ca) and TransUnion Canada (1-877-525-3823, www.tuc.ca).
How do I know if I’m a victim of identity theft?
Signs of fraud vary but typical indicators include:
- One of your creditors informs you that they have received an application for credit with your name, address and/or Social Insurance Number
- Credit cards or banks inform you that they have approved or declined your application – and you never applied
- You no longer receive your credit card statements in the mail
- Your credit card statement includes unusual purchases
- A collection agency contacts you to collect on your defaulted account, when you never opened that account
Identity thieves are looking for the following information:
- full name
- date of birth
- Social Insurance Numbers
- full address
- mother’s maiden name
- username and password for online services
- driver’s license number
- personal identification numbers (PIN)
- credit card information (numbers, expiry dates and the last three digits printed on the signature panel)
- bank account numbers
- passport number
What your information could be used for
Criminals can use your stolen or reproduced personal or financial information to:
- access your bank accounts
- open new bank accounts
- transfer bank balances
- apply for loans, credit cards and other goods and services
- make purchases
- hide their criminal activities
- obtain passports or receive government benefits
Using identity theft to facilitate organized criminal and terrorist activities also appears to be a growing trend.
Check out all the ways you can protect yourself on our Encompass Credit Union website at, https://encompasscu.ca/Personal/PlanningAndAdvice/Articles/ProtectYourself/