Despite what you may think, identity theft is a serious problem in Canada. As our world becomes more and more connected digitally, scammers are getting creative with how they communicate and what strategies they use to sway us into providing the information they need to steal our identity.

If you suspect your identity has been stolen or used, you’ll want to act quickly to report the issue and avoid any financial hardship that may come with the territory. The first step to avoiding identity theft is to learn more about what it means, how it happens and what you can do to protect yourself.

Different Types Of Identity Theft

Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information for criminal purposes without your knowledge. Whether they use this information to access financial accounts, hack online accounts and/or defraud others, once they have access to your personal info, they can also spend your money, open new bank accounts, apply for loans, commit crimes, rent a car/apartment or change your passwords and contact info on online accounts.

How Your Identity Can Be Stolen

While there are many ways for scammers to steal your identity, the most common methods of identity theft include stealing your mail, looking through trash for personal identification information, tampering with ATMs or payment machines in shops to steal banking information or using public sources like social media to access important data.

Thieves are usually looking to steal credit cards, bank cards and PINs, driver’s licences, passports and SIN cards as these items will give them the ability to assume your identity and gain access to the additional information, they’ll need to take over your accounts entirely.

Keep in mind that your online transactions are also an easy target should your passwords be too weak and your account information be too easily accessible. If you don’t pay attention to data leaks or take your cyber security seriously, thieves could easily access your email, bank accounts, credit card accounts, government logins or online shopping accounts and use them to get the information they need.

Biggest Signs Of Identity Theft

While the thought of someone secretly stealing your identity without your knowledge seems scary, the reality is that there are a few major signs you can watch for that will alert you to a possible case of identity theft:

  1. You start receiving calls from a collection agency or creditor in relation to an account you don’t have
  2. Your financial account statements show withdrawals or transactions you didn’t make
  3. Your bills/statements don’t arrive in the mail on time or at all
  4. You receive a notification from the bank about a new credit card or account creation in your name that you did not sign up for
  5. A creditor calls to let you know you’ve been approved/denied for credit that you didn’t apply for yourself

Unfortunately, your information can be stolen anytime, without your knowledge, and as a result, many people don’t realize their identity has actually been stolen until they’re denied a loan, job or rent unexpectedly after a credit check. Stay on top of your accounts by checking through your statements regularly for unusual activity and paying close attention to the mail you receive (or don’t receive) as expected.

What To Do If Your Identity Was Stolen

If you suspect your identity may have been stolen, there’s a series of steps you’ll want to take immediately to ensure you stop the thief in their tracks before any damage can be done.

Review Credit And Banking Statements

Take a look at your credit card and banking statements and make note of any unusual or suspicious charges. If you aren’t sure what a specific charge is, look up the information online and verify that everything showing up on your statements is supposed to be there. You should make it a habit to do this regularly so you can notice anything out of the ordinary immediately in the future.

Contact Banking And Credit Card Companies

Call your credit card company and financial institution immediately if you notice anything out of the ordinary in your account or statement activity. They can put a “stop payment” on stolen cheques or even freeze a stolen card/account on your behalf. There’s also a chance that they can reverse any fraudulent charges on your accounts so the sooner you connect with them, the better!

Change Passwords And PINs

Make it a point to go through all your online and social media accounts to change the passwords and make them more secure. If you use any accounts on your devices, be sure to log out of them all while you’re at it. You’ll also want to change your credit card and debit PINs immediately so be sure to reach out to your financial institutions to learn more about how to get that done.

Place Fraud Warning On Credit File

Contact Equifax® and TransUnion® Canada and ask for a fraud warning to be placed on your file. While you’re at it, ask for a recent credit report and make sure there’s no new accounts included that you didn’t apply for/set up yourself.

Contact Police And Government Agencies

While having small pieces of information stolen may not seem like a big threat to your identity, thieves can use these pieces to apply for legal documents in your name and could really escalate a stolen wallet or login into a more serious situation. Contact Passport Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and your provincial government as soon as possible and ask them to put an alert on your account just in case any suspicious activity arises. If you’ve lost your documents, you’ll also want to let these agencies know immediately.

Contact Post Office

If your banking statements or bills have gone missing or you find you aren’t getting mail as expected, you’ll want to contact the post office immediately to make sure that a thief hasn’t changed the contact information on your account.

Report Fraud to CAFC

The CAFC (Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre) is an agency that collects information and criminal intelligence on any fraud activity in the country. You’ll want to report any fraud you’ve encountered to this agency so they can notify local police departments and assist them in investigating the case.

Protecting Your Identity

While the thought of someone stealing your personal information may be scary, there are many ways you can protect yourself against identity theft on a regular basis, whether it’s at home, online or while you’re shopping.

At-Home Protection

Identity theft can happen anywhere so it’s important that you follow these tips to stay on top of any potential issues as they arise:

  • Store your ID in a safe and secure place so should a break-in occur, thieves won’t have access to important documents like driver’s licenses, passports, SINs etc.
  • When you’re discarding documents that contain personal information, make sure to shred them before throwing them in the trash.
  • Empty your mailbox daily and if you plan to go away for an extended period of time, ensure you assign someone to empty it daily on your behalf.
  • Make it a point to look through your credit card and financial statements every month to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity and report it right away.
  • Check your credit report once a year for any unusual activity.
  • Avoid giving out any personal information over the telephone unless you placed the call yourself or know the business.
  • Don’t give out sensitive information like a credit card number or SIN in a public place.
  • Don’t include any personal information aside from your name/address on cheques.

Online Protection

The internet can open you up to a lot of potential fraud so make sure you’re always alert and follow these steps for precaution:

  • Avoid posting your birthdate or address online.
  • Change your password often and make sure they’re strong.
  • Review and understand the privacy settings on the social accounts you use.
  • If you plan to sell your electronic devices, make sure you wipe them clean first.
  • Disable geo tracking on your phone when posting photos so people can’t see where it was posted from.
  • Consider setting up a Google Alert for your name so you get notified anytime its used online.
  • Be cautious of which apps and software you download on your devices.
  • Never click on a link in a spam message/email.
  • Before you give your credit card info or other personal data to a business, make sure their website is marked as secure (look for a lock symbol in the URL search bar or make sure the website begins with https).
  • After you make a purchase or share data on a website, make sure to log out and clear your browsers cache/cookies.
  • Avoid shopping online or doing any banking when using public wifi as the connection is likely not secure.

Shopping Protection

When you’re out shopping, there are a few different ways you can protect yourself from identity theft:

  • Use your hands to cover your button selections on the pin pad of a card machine to ensure no one around you can see what you type.
  • Never share your banking information or PIN with anyone.
  • Avoid using ATMs or cash machines in isolated or dimly lit areas as they may have been tampered with.
  • Carry as few cards with you as possible when you go shopping and always stay alert to ensure any card you hand over to an employee, isn’t swapped out or tampered with
  • Avoid giving too much personal information to the stores you shop.

Identity theft and identity fraud are serious business, but luckily there are many ways you can protect yourself at home, online and while shopping. Always use caution when your personal information is involved and take the steps to be proactive instead of reactive so you’re quick to notice suspicious activity and you know exactly what steps to take immediately following the discovery of any issues.