Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency, recently had a data breach in which hackers made off with the names, addresses, credit card information and even social security numbers of 143 million Americans and 100,000 Canadians. This has caused some heightened awareness and concern around identity theft and fraud.
In addition to large data breaches, almost everyone I know has been contacted by a scammer looking to take advantage of those not aware of the hazard. I’ve included some helpful links to Canada’s Anti Fraud Center Webpage, awareness is key to protecting yourself.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when your personal information; your name, driver’s license, or Social Insurance Number, has been stolen by an imposter who intends to commit fraud in your name. With your Social Insurance Number, someone may be able to 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.
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.
What are some tips for avoiding fraud?
* Do not keep extra credit cards, Social Insurance Card, birth certificate or passport with you unless completely necessary.
* Advise creditors of address changes and redirect your mail to the new address.
* Install a lockable mailbox at your residence to reduce mail theft.
* Unfortunately, family members can be the perpetrators of fraud. Avoid giving your family members access to your accounts.
* Take credit/debit and ATM card receipts with you. Never toss them in a public trash container and shred them before discarding.
* Never leave your purse or wallet unattended or in open view in your car, even if you have locked the doors.
* Destroy all cheques immediately after you close a chequing account. Keep courtesy cheques that your bank or credit card company sends in a secure place. Destroy the courtesy cheques if you do not plan on using them.
* Tell your bank that you will pick up your new cheques at the branch rather than having them mailed to your home address.
* Reconcile your cheque and credit card statements regularly and challenge any purchases you did not make.
* Limit the number of credit cards you have and cancel inactive accounts.
* Do not give credit card, bank or Social Insurance Number information to anyone by telephone, even if you made the call, until you can verify that the call is legitimate.
* Do not allow an institution to use your Social Insurance Number as an identifier for your account.
* Try to keep your chequing, saving or credit card account separate from your line of credit. If a fraudster gains access to your line of credit account, the losses could be severe.
* Scrutinize your utility and subscription bills to ensure the charges are yours.
* Memorize your passwords and Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) so you do not have to write them down. Be aware of your surroundings to ensure no-one is watching you input your PIN. Never share your password or Personal Identification Numbers (“PIN”) numbers.
* Avoid easily identifiable PINs (e.g. date of birth).
* Keep a list of all your credit and bank accounts in a secure place so you can quickly call the issuers to inform them about missing or stolen cards. Your list should include account numbers, expiration dates and customer service and fraud department telephone numbers.
* Do not toss pre-approved credit offers, credit card or utility bills in your trash or recycling bin without first tearing them into small pieces or shredding them.
* Avoid any offer that sounds too good to be true – they are often scams. Be very sceptical of offers that require your Social Insurance Number, credit or financial information as an enrolment condition, especially if you did not seek out the product or service.
* TransUnion and Equifax offer credit monitoring services. As well it may be advisable to request your credit report at least once a year from both major consumer reporting agencies to check for unauthorized activity and resolve issues quickly.
What should I do if I’m victim of credit fraud?
If you suspect that someone has stolen your identity, there are several things you need to do:
* Report the incident to the police, especially if it involves stolen identification. Insist on receiving a complaint number.
* The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (link below) provides valuable information and guidance.
* Report all stolen credit cards to the issuers and request new cards. Follow up with written notification.
* Notify your bank if your cheques were stolen and close your account.
* Be prepared to fill out Affidavits of forgery to establish your innocence for banks, credit grantors and recipients of stolen cheques. Remember, these institutions are joint victims with you and may suffer a financial loss.
* If you believe someone else used your Social Insurance Number, you should contact your local Service Canada Office for advice.
* Get a new bank card, account number and password. Do not reuse your old password. Never share your password or and Personal Identification Numbers (“PIN”) numbers.
* Notify Canada Post Postal Security if you suspect your mail was stolen.
* Contact TransUnion’s Fraud Victim Assistance Department and Equifax Canada. The companies will add fraud alerts to your credit files.
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
The Little Black Book of Scams