Amy Adams filled out a rental form and handed it to her prospective landlord.  She never dreamed the information would fall into the wrong hands.  She started to receive hefty bills for services and merchandise she had never purchased.  When a warrant was issued for the arrest of the imposter, the real Amy was wrongly accused.

Bill Brown’s wallet was stolen from his health club.  After he replaced his cards he thought nothing more of it until he started to get notices for traffic tickets in the thousands of dollars.  He received calls from credit companies to confirm activity that wasn’t his.  Collection agencies started pestering him for money he didn’t owe.

Both Amy and Bill were victims of identity theft.  These examples are based on real people and it took them years to rectify the problem to get their lives back.

Identity Theft: A Growing Crime

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime North America.  The majority of cases involve unauthorized purchases on credit cards and debit card skimming.  Impersonators use their fraudulently received information to set up new accounts, lines of credit, mortgages and even government benefits.  The victims often don’t even know anything has happened until they are turned down for credit.

Social Insurance Numbers

It seems as if everyone wants you to cough up your SIN lately.  Back in the day, before our wallets were crammed with credit, debit and rewards cards, if you didn’t have a driver’s license the SIN card was often used for identification.  After all, you had to be who you claimed to be if you were in possession of a government issued card.  Now you have to be more careful.

Basically, the only places that need your SIN are your employer and financial institutions who are required by law to report tax information.  However, these are not the only businesses that want to check your credit worthiness before they’ll do business with you.  Cell phone carriers, landlords, and utilities often want to look at your credit report.  In most cases individuals have just two choices – comply with the request if you want the company’s services or don’t do business with them.

That’s not to say you should hand over your number to every business that asks.  Find out why they are asking.  If they are not establishing a credit relationship with you they definitely don’t need it.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

  1. Keep your personal information safe.  A thief will pick through your garbage and recycling bins.  Be sure to shred all letters, statements and documents that have any personal information on them.
  2. Keep your personal information confidential.  Don’t give it out on the phone, email or Internet unless you initiated contact and you know who you are dealing with.  Even then, be very cautious.  Some people think nothing of responding to email and phone scams when they appear to be from groups they belong to.  Banks will never request financial and personal information by email.
  3. Protect your mail.  Bring the mail in daily.  Forward it when you move.  Have the post office hold it if you are away for an extended period and don’t have someone you trust handy to take it in.
  4. Protect your PINs and passwords.  People still keep this information in their wallets and to make matters worse, often use birthdates, phone numbers and other identifying numbers.
  5. Check for unusual transactions.  Beware of “too good to be true” or unexpected offers  –  You’ve won a trip or other expensive prize but in order to claim it you need to send a deposit.  Never agree to conduct financial transaction for strangers.
  6. Regularly review financial statements.  Pull a copy of your credit bureau file annually.  Immediately report any errors or discrepancies.
  7. Don’t leave your wallet lying around.  Your wallet holds a treasure trove of information for potential identity thieves.  Your driver’s license alone contains your full name, address, date of birth and personal appearance.

Potential thieves have become adept at stealing data to empty out bank accounts, obtain credit, max out credit limits and apply for jobs.

If you’re not careful it can cost you in time, money and stress to resolve.

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