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Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in Canada, and it can happen to anyone. We’ve got your back. Here are tips to recognize and guard against having your identity stolen.

What you should know

Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal info and uses it to do any of these things.

  • take money out of your bank account
  • make purchases using your credit card information
  • apply for a loan or credit card in your name
  • sign up for a cellphone service in your name

This is a criminal offence. But law enforcement gets a lot of complaints about this sort of thing, and their resources are limited. It’s important to know how to protect yourself, and what to do if you’re scammed.

Identity thieves can steal your personal information in many ways. Some might get it from a wallet or phone you lost. Some use public sources — online search engines, social media networks, phone books, and public records — to piece together a profile of you.

Others use more devious tactics.

They might sift through your garbage or recycling bins for discarded bills. They might pose as a government official, bank employee, or landlord to learn more about you. They might even ask your friends and family.

A more detailed example: You put your name in a free draw for a car or a trip or some other big-ticket item. In the end, there is no prize at all, and you’ve just been fished for your personal information.

That information could be sold and sold again. Best case, you’re caught in a spam storm that never ends. Worst case, they steal your identity.

Take special care with your internet use. Criminals may:

  • Pretend to be a reputable company and send fake emails or texts to trick you into providing personal and financial information. This is called phishing.

  • Use malware or spyware, which is software used to steal information about you. Clicking on a link in an email or installing free software can release the malicious bug.

Some more examples:

  • They scan old computers, mobile devices, or memory sticks for information that hasn’t been fully deleted.

  • They tamper with automated teller machines (ATMs) and point-of-sale debit machines so they can intercept your debit- or credit-card number and personal identification number (PIN).

  • They advertise jobs that don't exist to get you to submit your resume. Then they harvest your information from it.

Think your identity has been stolen? The following are red flags:

  • On your bills or bank statements, you don’t recognize some purchases or withdrawals.

  • Bills or bank statements arrive late or not at all (they may have been redirected).

  • You're alerted by your bank or credit card company about suspicious transactions.

  • You start getting bills from companies you know nothing about.

Two more red flags:

  • A company or collection agency contacts you about a debt that isn’t yours.

  • You apply for credit and are inexplicably turned down.

Being the victim of identity theft can be a complicated and frustrating experience.

You have to cancel cards and get replacements. You have to shut down accounts. You have to call your credit card company, and sometimes negotiate with them to remove some charges that weren’t yours.

You could end up with a bad credit report. This could make it hard to find a job, rent a place to live, or borrow money.

Your credit report is important! It’s a detailed list of your credit and bill-paying history, and other information about you. It helps businesses, banks, and others decide if you’re likely to pay your bills on time.

Protect yourself!

There are practical steps you can take to prevent identity theft.

Step 1. Protect your personal information

Step 2. Handle your documents carefully

Step 3. Be cautious using email

Step 4. Be cautious online

Step 5. Read your statements

Step 1. Protect your personal information

First, Never give personal or financial information over the phone or online unless you’re sure the caller is legitimate. Be extra careful about giving out your social insurance number (SIN). It's virtually a key to your identity.

Never give out these two pieces of information together: your date of birth and city of birth. With them, a scammer has 98% of what they need to steal your identity.

For passwords or PINs, don’t use favourite names or easy-to-guess combinations. In passwords, use capital letters, numbers, and characters like $ or %.

Step 2. Handle your documents carefully

Don’t carry around your SIN card or passport. Store them in a safe place.

Tear or shred receipts and copies of papers you no longer need, such as old tax returns, insurance forms, and credit offers.

Don't leave personal information lying around at home, in your vehicle, at the office, or on your computer. Don’t leave receipts at an ATM, a gas station, or anywhere else you buy something.

When you receive a renewal or replacement for a personal document (for example, your driver’s licence), return or destroy the old one.

Sign your credit and debit cards as soon as you get them. Cut up expired and unused cards, and throw away the pieces separately. A card may have expired but the number may still be valid.

Step 3. Be cautious using email

Be alert to emails that seem to come from financial institutions or authorities asking you to provide personal information. These days, it’s hard to spot a fake!

Call the company and verify the request before you proceed. You can also ask a friend or family member if it looks real.

Step 4. Be cautious online

On social networks, don’t post more personal information than necessary. Set your privacy settings to high. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.

Keep in mind that wireless networks in public places such as coffee shops, libraries, and airports are not secure. When using a public wireless network, never send personal information or visit sites that require a password (such as online banking).

Step 5. Read your statements

Those bank and credit card statements that pile up? Read them.

That way you'll know if you've been charged for something you didn’t buy. Contact the credit card company immediately if something is off.

We have even more on identity theft. See our in-depth coverage of this topic.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in April 2020
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Ogi Balaban, Ink LLP

Ogi Balaban, Ink LLP

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

Related

On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Scams & identity theft in the section on Consumer.

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