Identity theft and you
Revised: October 2020
Identity theft includes everything from cheque forgery and the use of stolen credit cards to sophisticated scams in which an impostor adopts another person’s identity to gain access to their assets.
Identity fraud and identity theft are criminal offences in Canada. With today’s proliferation of technology, stealing identities in order to commit fraud has become a very lucrative business.
Cloaked in your stolen identity, a fraudster can cash your cheques, raid your bank accounts, bilk your credit card company and even load a big mortgage on your house.
Identity thieves have many ways to get their hands on your personal information. Some simply steal old bills or preprinted credit card offers discarded in waste or recycling bins. Others exploit information lost or stolen from retailers, other businesses and even government bodies.
Take steps to protect yourself from unscrupulous criminals by limiting the amount of information you give out about yourself. Read on to learn more about how to safeguard your identity and stay safe from fraud. Incorporating these tips into your life doesn’t take long, but will lessen the chances that your personal information winds up in the wrong hands.
Tips for reducing the risk of identity theft
Be careful about sharing personal information or letting it circulate freely. When you are asked to provide personal information, you should ask:
- how it will be used
- why it is needed
- who will be sharing it
- how it will be safeguarded
- if there are any risks of harm or other consequences
Do not give out more than necessary.
Be particularly careful about your birth date and your Social Insurance Number (SIN). Your SIN is an important key to your identity, especially in credit reports and computer databases. Don’t share it unless absolutely necessary.
Talk with your children about identity theft and how to minimize the risk.
Credit cards and banking
Keep track of when credit card bills are supposed to arrive, and call the company if they’re late. Review all credit card and bank statements to make sure there are no unauthorized purchases.
If you do online banking, consult your statement frequently to check for any anomalies. Avoid connecting to your bank while using public Wi-Fi as the connection is not secure and others may be able to capture the data you are sending.
You can also create a separate account on your computer that you only use for banking and other online financial activities. You can protect this account with a unique password.
Use a locked mailbox or one with a drop slot to prevent mail theft. If you use a regular box, pick up your mail as promptly as possible after it is delivered. Ensure your mail is forwarded if you move.
Shred or destroy items with your name and address, such as preapproved credit card offers, insurance and loan applications, bills, and credit card receipts. Don’t discard them in your recycling or waste bins until they have been properly shredded.
If you are going to be away from home, arrange for a trusted neighbour to pick up your mail. If this is impossible, Canada Post provides a mail-holding service for a fee.
Don’t give out credit card numbers or other personal information over the phone unless it’s to a trusted person or you initiated the call yourself.
If someone calls unexpectedly and requests your personal or financial information, try calling the organization they are representing to verify that the request is legitimate. Reputable firms never ask for personal information without significant safeguards.
Carry only essential ID such as your driver’s licence and health card. Leave your SIN card, passport and birth certificate in a safe place.
Do not let private organizations make copies of your ID documents unless there is a legitimate need and you know that they will be protected adequately. The information on the copy is as valuable as on the original document.
Make sure your devices are equipped with online security and privacy safeguards including, but not limited to, firewalls and virus protection. Be sure to keep the software and operating systems on your devices up to date.
Ensure your devices are password-protected. They are full of personal information that could be compromised if they fall into the wrong hands.
Create unique, hard-to-guess passwords for each of your online accounts and change passwords if you suspect they have been compromised. See our advice on creating and managing your passwords for more information.
Be careful in public
Whenever possible, do not engage in sensitive activities — such as online banking or online purchases — on your device when you are in public. You never know who may be watching or filming you in order to capture your personal information, such as your passwords and other personal details.
Similarly, avoid sensitive transactions when using public Wi-Fi, as the connection is not secure and others may be able to capture the data you are sending.
If you need to log on to your email or bank account from a library or other public computer, make sure no one can watch over your shoulder as you type in your password and other private information. While not foolproof, the lock icon, HTTPS protocol or green highlighting in the address bar are all signs the site is likely secure. Be sure to log off when your transaction is complete.
Be careful online
Be careful about where and to whom you divulge or post any personal information online.
Don’t reply to suspicious emails, instant messages or text messages asking you to provide personal information, even if they appear to come from financial or government institutions. Call the bank or other institution if you have doubts.
Disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you are not using them. When you leave your device open by default, you leave your data vulnerable to access by others without your knowledge or consent whenever you pass through cafés and other places offering open, public wireless networks.
Social media like Twitter and Facebook are great for keeping in touch with friends, but can also be a goldmine for identity thieves. It’s a good idea to limit identifying information you post, and not to share your location. See our advice on staying safe on social media for more tips on how to protect yourself.
Disposing of your device
Delete all personal information from your electronic media devices before discarding, recycling or selling them. There are several ways to do this, for example by resetting to factory defaults, overwriting, reformatting or physically destroying the media.
If you become a victimIf you think you’ve been targeted by identity fraud or identity theft, there are actions you should take to address the situation. Depending on the circumstances, you might need to:
- Report the incident to local police if the matter involved a theft/crime
- Report the incident to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (1-888-495-8501) if the matter involved a scam or fraud
- Advise your bank and credit card companies. Request new bank or credit cards with new numerical identifiers on them
- Report any missing identity documents or cards, such as a driver’s licence, a health card or immigration documents to the appropriate organization
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