Security issues hardly ever cross our minds when we hand over our debit or credit cards in a restaurant or to make a purchase, but identity theft and identity fraud are becoming huge problems. Protecting your identity and personal information is harder than ever before.
Equifax recently suffered a massive data breach that impacted approximately 100,000 Canadians. Target, Home Depot, Staples and other retailers have reported that millions of debit and credit card numbers had been stolen. Even the Canadian Revenue Agency fell victim in 2014 and compromised more than 900 tax filers.
Last year several Canadian banks issued letters to customers stating, “a recent data compromise occurred at a merchant where you have used your account,” cancelled possibly affected cards and issued new replacements.
It can be disconcerting to receive a letter like this, and even though one year of free credit monitoring is often offered, you may wonder if your personal and financial information has been compromised.
Scammers would love to pretend they are you and use your good reputation to open bank accounts, apply for loans and credit cards, shop online, apply for government benefits and obtain passports. In addition to your name, address and phone number, thieves look for documents containing SINs, drivers license numbers, credit card and banking information, calling cards and birth certificates.
Protecting Your Identity
Many instances of identity theft go unreported because it often isn’t noticed. In some cases, a scammer may create phoney accounts in your name and use a different mailing address, so you may not know there is a problem until you are turned down for credit or have a collection agency calling you.
Prevention is the best way to deal with this crime.
- Safeguard personal information, especially your SIN and credit card and bank account numbers. Carry only the information and cards you actually need. You should only carry your passport, social insurance number and birth certificate with you when you know you will need them. Otherwise, keep them in a secure place.
- Don’t provide personal information unless you initiated the contact and you’re absolutely sure who you are dealing with. Never respond to emails supposedly from your bank, Revenue Canada or credit card companies that request personal information even if they look legitimate. They just don’t operate that way. These are just “phishing” scams, hoping to lure you into handing over all your personal data. Don’t click on any links or open attachments.
Some crooks just phone people up posing as someone from the bank or a government agency wanting to check your social insurance number, health card, or other private information.
- Pay close attention to your bank and credit card statements (both hard copy and online) and utility bills as soon as they arrive, and keep track of your statement cycles.
Companies will almost always cover charges caused by identity theft, but you must inform them of any irregularities as soon as you notice them. For example, if you lose your cell phone and call you cell phone provider right away, they can shut down your account. However, if you wait two weeks before calling them they could make you pay for all those long distance calls the thief made to Brazil.
- Never do banking or enter credit card numbers when using a Wi-Fi internet connection in a coffee shop, airport or hotel lobby. Thieves are able to monitor Wi-fi internet connections to steal information.
- Thieves can steal credit and debit numbers through a process call “skimming” at tampered bank and point of sale machines, so if you are about to use a bank machine and something doesn’t seem quite right – don’t use it.
- Banking or making purchases online using a secure connection is safe. Make sure the address has the prefix “https” and shows a closed padlock or key icon and the information being sent is encrypted.
- Make sure your computer is equipped with up to date virus protection and a “firewall” which prevents outsiders from accessing your data.
- During transactions, it’s safer to swipe your cards yourself rather than have the cashier do it for you. If you must hand over your card, make sure you don’t lose sight of it. Chip-and-PIN cards are much more secure than the magnetic swipe method.
- Memorize all your PINs – never carry them with you or write them on your cards – and change them frequently. Use a different password for all your accounts. Always shield your personal identification number when using an ATM or PIN pad, and never tell anyone your PIN or password.
- Make sure you shred credit card receipts, utility bills and any other personal and financial documents before they are thrown into the garbage or recycling. Some scammers actually “dumpster dive” – a process where they search through trash to find credit card bills and banking information. Those personalized credit card offers you get in the mail are one of the easiest ways a thief can get a credit card in your name.
- Check your credit reports. At least once a year obtain a copy of your credit report and make sure it’s accurate and doesn’t have any unusual activity.
- When you are away from home ask a trusted neighbour to pick up your mail or ask for “hold-mail” service at your post office. If you move, make sure you notify the post office and all relevant financial institutions of your change of address.
Having your identity stolen or tampered with is a major headache, but if you deal with it quickly, you can limit the damage to your credit reputation and keep your credit score in good standing.
If you lose credit cards, bank cards or any other important documents or information, or if you suspect, or know, that you are a victim of identity theft, or have unwittingly provided personal or financial information (perhaps in an email reply or over the phone), there are ways to repair the damage and prevent future problems.
- Your local police and file a report. Always ask for a copy of the police report for your files.
- Your financial institutions and credit card companies
- The two national credit bureaus – Equifax Canada (1-800-465-7166) and TransUnion Canada (1-877-525-3823) and place a fraud alert on your credit report. Confirm the fraud warning is actually on your report. It will stay on for five years. The fraud warning requires creditors to confirm your identity before extending credit.
Follow up your calls in writing to confirm, and keep a written record of all transactions, dates and conversations.
It’s a good idea to photocopy everything in your wallet and keep the photocopies in a safe place at home. It only takes a few minutes to lay all your cards out on a scanner or photocopier, and if you ever are unfortunate enough to have your wallet lost or stolen, you will have copies of all your important cards and documents and will know who to contact quickly.