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Reducing the Risk of Identity Theft

Identity theft (ID theft) is on the increase. It's one of the fastest growing crimes in the marketplace. This tip sheet identifies key ways to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.

This tipsheet is intended to provide general information and is not a substitute for legal advice.

  1. What is identity theft?
  2. Why should you be concerned about identity theft?
  3. What are some of the signs your identity might have been stolen?
  4. Identity thieves get your personal information by:
  5. Four key ways to reduce your risk
  6. Credit Reporting Agencies
  7. Keeping Your Key Documents Secure
  8. Privacy Commissioner of Canada
  9. What To Do If Identity Theft Happens

1. What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your knowledge or consent to commit a crime, such as fraud or theft.

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2. Why should you be concerned about identity theft?

Identity thieves steal key pieces of personal information and use it to impersonate you and commit crimes in your name. In addition to names, addresses and phone numbers, thieves look for social insurance numbers, drivers licence numbers, credit card and banking information, bank cards, calling cards, birth certificates and passports.

They may physically steal important documents, or they may find out your personal information in other ways, without your knowledge.

Once they steal the information, identity thieves can manipulate it and invade your personal and financial life. They can use stolen identities to conduct spending sprees, open new bank accounts, divert mail, apply for loans, credit cards, and social benefits, rent apartments and even commit more serious crimes and, once arrested, they use their new identity.

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3. What are some of the signs your identity might have been stolen?

  1. Bills and statements don't arrive when they are supposed to - they may have been stolen from the mailbox or someone has changed the mailing address.
  2. You receive calls from collection agencies or creditors for an account you don't have or that is up to date. Someone may have opened a new account in your name, or added charges to an account without your knowledge or permission.
  3. Financial account statements show withdrawals or transfers you didn't make.
  4. A creditor calls to say you've been approved or denied credit that you haven't applied for. Or, you get credit card statements for accounts you don't have.
  5. You apply for credit and are turned down, for reasons that do not match your understanding of your financial position.

4. Identity thieves get your personal information by:

  1. Buying the information from a dishonest employee working where personal and/or financial information is stored.
  2. Removing mail from your mailbox or fraudulently redirecting your mail.
  3. Stealing personal and private information from wallets, purses, mail, your home, vehicle, computer, and Web sites you've visited or e-mails you've sent.
  4. Retrieving personal information in your garbage or recycling bin by "dumpster diving".
  5. Posing as a creditor, landlord or employer to get a copy of your credit report or access to your personal information from other confidential sources.
  6. Tampering with automated banking machines (ABMs) and point of sale terminals, enabling thieves to read your debit or credit card number and personal identification number (PIN).
  7. Searching public sources, such as newspapers (obituaries), phone books, and records open to the public (professional certifications).

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5. Four key ways to reduce your risk

While you probably can't prevent identity theft entirely, there are important steps that you can take to minimize your risk, by managing your personal information wisely and cautiously.

  1. Guard your personal information and documents.
  2. Keep your computer and its contents safe.
  3. Shop and bank safely online.
  4. Be vigilant.

Guard your personal information and documents

  • If any of your key documents (such as your birth certificate, driver's licence, passport, bank card or credit card) are lost or stolen, notify the issuer immediately.
  • Shred or destroy sensitive personal documents before tossing them into the garbage or recycling. This will defeat dumpster divers looking for transaction records, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, cheques, financial statements and old income tax returns.
  • Beware of mail, phone or Internet promotions that ask for personal information. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your information.
  • Cut up expired and unused credit and debit cards. The card may have expired but the number may still be valid.
  • Lock your household mailbox if possible. If you are going to be away, arrange for a trusted neighbour to pick up your mail. You can also go to your local post office (with identification) and ask for Canada Post's hold mail service. There will be a charge for this service.
  • If you use ABMs or point-of-sale terminals, always shield the entry of your PIN, and never give your access code (PIN) to anyone. Choose a PIN that can't be figured out easily, as you could be liable if you use a PIN combination selected from your name, telephone number, date of birth, address or Social Insurance Number (SIN). Remember that no one from a financial institution or the police will ask you for your PIN.
  • Don't leave personal information lying around at home, in your vehicle or at the office. Keep your birth certificate, passport and social insurance card in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box at your financial institution, when you're not actually using them. Other important papers, such as diplomas and degrees, marriage certificates, insurance policies, tax returns,wills, stocks, bonds and term deposits would also be safer in the safety deposit box, rather than in a file cabinet at home.
  • Find out how your employer makes sure your personal information is private. How do they store and dispose of it? Who can see it?
  • Don't give personal information to anyone who phones or e-mails you unless you know who they are or can confirm that the person is from a legitimate company. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of financial institutions, Internet service providers and even government agencies to get you to reveal identifying information.
  • Don't put more than your name and address on your personal cheques.
  • Carry only the documents and cards you will need that day. You rarely need to carry your birth certificate, SIN card or passport.
  • When you receive a renewal or replacement for a document or certificate that contains identity information (such as your driver's licence or vehicle registration) make sure you return or destroy the old one.
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Keep your computer and its contents safe

Computer technology makes it easier for criminals to find personal and financial information. If you keep credit card numbers, account numbers, and tax information in your system or use e-mail to do financial business, take steps to make sure that this information is safe from hackers and thieves. The following measures can help protect against identity theft online .

  • Protect your computer, including laptops, with a startup password that is a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. Don't use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password.
  • Use a personal firewall, especially if you use an "always connected/ always on" Internet connection, even if your computer is turned off. The firewall stops uninvited visitors from getting access to your information in the computer.
  • Disable file-sharing software to prevent unauthorized access to your computer and its data.
  • Install virus protection software and be sure to update it regularly. Viruses can damage your data and instruct your computer to send information to other systems without your knowledge.
  • Be careful what you open. E-mails from strangers could contain viruses or programs to hijack your Internet connection or damage your computer.
  • Don't send personal or confidential information over e-mail. E-mail messages are not secure.
  • Even though you've deleted files from folders, remnants may still be on the computer's hard drive, where they may be easily retrieved. Make sure personal information is really deleted before you sell, recycle or discard your computer. Use a secure hard drive overwrite utility to reduce the risk that others could recover your data.
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Shop and bank safely online

  • Before giving your credit card number or other financial information to a business, make sure that the merchant has a secure transaction system. Most Internet browsers indicate when you are using a secure Internet link. To check to see if a Web site is secure look for: A Web site address that starts with https://, or An icon, often a lock or an unbroken key, at the bottom right corner of the screen.
  • Fake or "spoof" Web sites are designed to trick consumers and collect their personal information. Be cautious when clicking on a link or an unknown Web site or unfamiliar e-mail. The link may take you to a fraudulent site.
  • After completing a financial transaction or online banking, make sure you sign out of the Web site and clear your internet file/caches (internet files are retained in your computer automatically and thus should be cleared so that hackers can not obtain the information). Most financial institutions provide instructions on how to clear the caches under their "security" section.
  • Companies may also display a seal on their Web site to assure online customers that their business has the ability to maintain privacy and security for Internet transactions. Check to see which organization is awarding the seal and what requirements a merchant has to meet to display the seal.
  • Prior to submitting any personal information to an Internet Web site, review the Web site privacy policy for an understanding of how your information may be used.
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Be vigilant

Paying attention to details can make a difference.

  • Once a year, get a copy of your credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies (credit bureaus). The report tells you what information the bureau has about your credit history, financial information, any judgments, collection activity and who has asked for your information. By checking, you can spot debts that aren't yours and see who has been asking about you. You need to follow up if a lender or credit card issuer has asked for a report and you don't have an account with them and haven't applied for credit or a card from them. Someone else may have been using your name.
  • Know when your credit card and financial statements and utility bills are due. If they don't arrive when they are supposed to, call the company - an ID thief may have changed the billing address.
  • Pay attention to credit card expiry dates. If the replacement card hasn't arrived call the company. Someone may have taken it from the mail or changed the mailing address.
  • Keep credit card, debit card and automatic banking machine (ABM) transaction records so you can match them to your statements.
  • Review your bank and credit card statements promptly and report any discrepancies to your financial institution right away.
  • Keep a list of the names, account numbers and the expiration dates of your cards in a secure place. This will help you when alerting your credit grantors about a lost or stolen card.
  • A cardholder can be liable for losses associated with debit card transactions if they have contributed to the unauthorized use of the card. However, the loss will not exceed the established debit card transaction withdrawal limits. For more information, visit Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs opens new window
  • Memorize all passwords and personal identification numbers. If you must write them down, ensure that they are well disguised, for example, by re-arranging the numerals or substituting other numerals or symbols and by keeping it within a record of other information, such as a telephone list.

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6. Credit Reporting Agencies

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8. Keeping Your Key Documents Secure

Documents that contain important personal information, such as your driver's license, birth certificate, Social Insurance Card, passport, or citizenship and immigration documents can be resources for identity thieves. Criminals can use these documents to obtain others and to gain access to more of your personal and financial information. Keep these documents safe to ensure that they don't fall into the wrong hands. If one of these documents is lost or stolen, notify the issuing agency right away.

Driver's / Operator's licence

A driver's / operator's licence has become the most universally accepted and trusted picture identification card issued by government. While its purpose is to show that you have the privilege to drive, society generally accepts the driver's/operator's licence as an identity document.

Because it's so well accepted, if your driver's licence is stolen, scanned, faked or obtained fraudulently, it can serve as a crucial tool for committing crime.

Motor vehicle and driver's licence issuing agencies across North America are working together to make it harder to forge driver's/ operator's licences and to tighten the controls used when issuing licences.

Birth certificate

The birth certificate is the primary government document issued to anyone born in Canada. The birth certificate is required when applying for a passport or Social Insurance Card as well as for other provincial or federal programs.

Birth certificates, unlike many identity documents, don't have an expiry date. You shouldn't carry your birth certificate in your wallet or purse. Keep it in a secure place such as a safety deposit box.

Social Insurance Number

Social Insurance Numbers (SINs) are used in a wide variety of databases as a primary identifier. Computer-savvy criminals can collect information about you by searching databases.

Although certain government departments and programs are authorized to collect and use the SIN, there is no legislation that prohibits other organizations asking for it. You can challenge a request for your SIN. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has a fact sheet with more details. ((800) 282-1376 or the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada's website opens new window)

You do not have to give your SIN to anyone who isn't authorized to collect the information. Also, don't carry your SIN in your wallet, purse or car. Keep it in a secure place like a safety deposit box.

Other important government-issued documents include the Passport, issued by the Canadian Passport Office, and the Permanent Resident Card and Certificate of Canadian Citizenship, issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. If you have any of these documents, carry them only when needed, keep them in a safe place and report them if lost or stolen.For further information on Identity Theft visit: Canadian Consumer Information Gateway opens new window

Key Government Documents: Contact Information

If your government-issued documents are lost or stolen, it is important to report them rightaway to the issuing authority, so that they can be cancelled and you can apply to have newdocuments issued.

Federal Government

Key documents issued by the federal government include your Social Insurance Card, Passport, Citizenship and Immigration Documents and the Certificate of Indian Status.

For information on Government of Canada opens new window programs and services call (800) O-Canada ((800) 622-6232). If you use a TTY call (800) 465-7735.

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Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Toll Free: 1-800-282-1376
TTY: (613) 992-9190

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9. What To Do If Identity Theft Happens

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to commit fraud or theft such as opening accounts or incurring debt in your name, or taking money from your account. If you discover you are a victim of identity theft, take the following steps:

  1. Contact each financial institution, credit card issuer or other company that provided the identity thief with unauthorized credit, money, goods or services. Tell them what happened, initially, and then contact them in writing and ask them to investigate the occurrence, cancel and re-issue any cards that were affected, and close any fraudulent or affected accounts. Change all of your money-related passwords.
  2. Ask companies if they have special procedures to open a file or to begin investigating your claim of identity theft. Ask them to whom you can send an Identity Theft Statement. Do they require any additional information? Take clear notes and/or chart your course, as you’ll see below.

Identity Theft Statement

Complete an Identity Theft Statement explaining your particular case in detail. Provide the dated and signed Statement with copies of all relevant documentation to all effected companies as soon as possible. Contact credit reporting agencies active in our Province, Trans Union Canada and Equifax Canada. Ask each agency to send you a copy of your credit report and discuss with them whether you should have a “fraud alert” placed on your file, asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts. The credit report may reveal if there are other companies where the identity thief has opened accounts or incurred debts in your name.

Credit Bureaus

You can call Equifax Canada at 1-800-465-7166 and Trans Union Canada at 1-800-797-3992 (or in St. John’s 709-754-3992). You may also visit their Web sites at opens new window and opens new window

Report the incident to your local police department with a copy of your Identity Theft Statement. Ask the police to open a file and give you a report number you can cite. If relevant, report the incident to the Anti-Fraud Centre, which has a national mandate to gather information about identity theft. They may provide additional assistance to identity theft victims. You can call the Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.

If your government-issued documents were lost or stolen, report them to the responsible ministry or department and request new documents.

Please refer to the document below, "What To Do If Identity Theft Happens To You" for further information.

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