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Protect your identity while holiday shopping, Commissioner says

Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart offers her Top 10 tips to avoid falling victim to identity theft during the holiday season

OTTAWA, December 7, 2007 –Adopting a few simple precautions to protect your personal information while holiday shopping will reduce the risk you’ll become an identity theft victim, says Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

“This is the time of year when many of us are out shopping.  We need to think about safeguarding our personal information, including credit card numbers, each time we take out our wallet,” says Commissioner Stoddart.

Defending against identity thieves can be as easy as ensuring you don’t keep unnecessary documents in your wallet or checking your receipt to ensure your complete credit card number is not printed.

“Identity theft is a crime which can inflict an enormous financial and emotional cost.  While it’s impossible to entirely eliminate the risk you’ll become a victim, it is possible to substantially reduce the risk.”

Commissioner Stoddart today released her Top 10 tips for avoiding identity theft during the holidays.

  1. Remove any cards or documents not needed on a regular basis – a Social Insurance Number card or birth certificate, for example – from your wallet.  If your wallet gets stolen, those sensitive numbers, which are extremely valuable to identity thieves, will remain safe.
  2. Ensure the PIN for your bank card can’t be easily guessed.  Numbers based on your name, telephone number, date of birth, address or SIN should not be used. Never write down your PIN and leave it in your wallet or other obvious place.
  3. When you enter your PIN either at an ATM machine or at the cash register, cover it with your hand.
  4. If you have doubts about whether an automated teller machine is secure, don’t use it. (There have been cases of criminals setting up ATMs in order to capture card and PIN information.)
  5. Keep your eye on credit and debit cards at the checkout counter to ensure the cashier doesn’t “double swipe” – run your card through the cash register and then an illegal card reader capable of capturing your personal information.
  6. Check receipts to ensure your complete credit card number has not been printed.  Retailers should have upgraded their processing equipment to automatically mask some of the numbers.  Keep any receipts with complete credit card numbers in a safe place.  When they are no longer needed, shred or burn these slips.
  7. When shopping online, ensure your security software – firewall, anti-virus and anti-spy protections, for example – are up-to-date.  Only send personal or financial information after ensuring there is a secure transaction system. Check for an icon of a lock or unbroken key at the bottom right corner of the screen or a web site address that begins with https://. Remember to use security controls when using a wireless network to shop.
  8. Buy from reputable online firms.  Check out a service you have not heard of by talking to friends, looking for comments about it online and calling its customer service line.  If you do not feel comfortable with the service, don’t use it.
  9. Check credit card and bank statements as soon as they arrive so that any problems can be reported immediately.  Take note of when your credit card bill is supposed to arrive in order to ensure an identity thief hasn’t redirected your mail.
  10. Stores can ask for only the minimum information necessary to prevent fraud when handling returns. If you are buying a gift for a friend, colleague or relative, ask for a gift receipt. Retailers may ask for personal information such as name, address and telephone number. Sometimes a store will ask to view a piece of identification when a consumer returns a product. Information such as a driver’s licence number should not be recorded.

More detailed information about identity theft is available on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner web site.

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For more information or interview requests, contact:

Colin McKay
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel: (613) 995-0103

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