Preventing, Detecting and Correcting Identity Theft
According to law enforcement agencies, identity theft is the fastest-growing white-collar
crime in the North America. Nowadays, when your purse or wallet gets stolen, the cash
inside may not be the only thing a thief wants to steal. The most valuable items in your
wallet are your Social Insurance number, ATM card, credit cards, bank checks, and any
other items containing your personal information. Additionally, during the course of a busy
day, you share this information when making transactions in person, over the telephone
and online to buy goods and services. If this sensitive information falls into the hands of a
criminal, it may be used to steal your financial identity.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Insurance number, credit card number
or some other piece of your personal information to apply for a credit card, make unauthorized
purchases, gain access to your bank accounts or obtain loans under your name. Unfortunately,
most people do not know that they have been victims of identity theft until mysterious charges
appear on their credit card bills or they are rejected for a mortgage because unpaid bills appear on
their credit report.Types of Identity Theft
Social Security Number
Your SIN number is the most valuable piece of your personal financial information because it is
your main identifying number for employment, tax reporting, and credit history tracking purposes. If
it falls in the hands of a thief, you could face serious problems as a result. A thief could use your
SIN number to obtain employment, open credit card accounts or obtain loans under your name.
The best way to protect yourself is to guard your number and provide it to others only when
absolutely necessary.Credit Cards
There are numerous ways in which an identity thief can make unauthorized charges on your
existing credit card accounts, or open up new accounts under your name. An ordinary thief might
steal your wallet or purse and try to make use of your stolen cards and checks. The more
sophisticated thief can fill out a change of address form from the post office to get all your bills sent
to another address. He or she can also call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you,
change the mailing address on your credit card accounts. The impostor then runs up charges on
your account. Since your bills are being sent to a new address, you may not immediately realize
the problem. An identity thief might also open new accounts under your name by stealing and
completing a pre-approved credit card offer sent to you in the mail, using your name, date of birth
and SIN number, but a different address, on the application form. If this occurs, you may not
discover that a new account has been opened under your name until the unpaid bills appear on
your credit report.
Identity thieves can also obtain your credit card information from purchases you make at stores,
over the telephone or online. For example, the credit card information you provide in person or
over the telephone during a purchase can be improperly used to make unauthorized charges on
your account. In addition, thieves can obtain your credit card number and other personal
information through fraudulent or unsecured Web sites. No matter how professional looking the
Web site, check the company’s reliability with the Better Business Bureau before doing business
with it, review the Web site’s security policy, and be sure to use a secure browser if you are
providing credit card information online. In the address window of your browser, check to see that
the first part of the company’s Web address changes from "http://" to "https://;" and also check
the lower corner of the Web page to see whether a lock or key symbol appears, signifying security.
Using a secure browser helps to ensure the safety of your personal data when it is being
transmitted to a company’s computers.
out how the company uses your credit card and other personal information. The user agreement
database and whether you can opt out of being added to the company’s mailing list or having the
company share your personal information with a third party.Check Fraud
Identity thieves can drain your checking account by stealing your checks or your checking account
number from your home or office and forging your signature, or by making counterfeit checks in
your name, using a home computer. Some thieves’ even use cleaning solvent to remove what is
already written on a check, making it payable to them. If your checks have been stolen or misused,
immediately notify your bank, place a stop payment order, and close your checking account.
Be aware that identity thieves can also open checking accounts in your name using personal
information such as your Social Security number. When they write bad checks on that account,
those debts appear on your credit report.Cellular Telephone Service
Identity thieves can establish new cellular telephone service in your name or make unauthorized
calls that seem to come from, and are billed to, your cellular phone. Others make unauthorized
charges by using your calling card and PIN. If this occurs, contact your service provider to close
your existing account, and establish another one with a new PIN.Internet Account Updates
You may receive e-mail requests that seem to be from your Internet Service Provider stating that
your "account information needs to be updated" or that "the credit card you used to sign up for
service is invalid or expired and the information needs to be reentered to keep your account
active." Such requests may come from scam artists seeking to obtain your personal information to
commit fraud. If you receive this kind of request, do not respond without checking with your Internet
Service Provider first.Prevention
Although there is no method for guaranteeing that identity theft will never happen to you, below are
tips than can help you minimize your risk:
• Carry only the cards you actually need. Minimize the identification information and the
number of cards you carry in your wallet or purse. Do not carry your SIN card unless you
• Never put your account information on the outside of an envelope or on a postcard.
• Cut up old or expired credit cards. Close all inactive credit card and bank accounts. Even
though you do not use them, these accounts appear on your credit report and may be used
• For your ATM card, choose a Personal Identification Number (PIN) different from your
address, telephone number, and middle name, the last four digits of your SIN number, your
birth date or any other information that could be easily discovered by thieves.
• Memorize your PIN; do not write it on your ATM card or keep it written on a piece of paper
somewhere in your wallet. Statistics show that in many instances of ATM card fraud,
cardholders wrote their PINs on their ATM cards or on slips of paper kept with their wallets
• Keep personal information in a safe place. If you employ outside help or are having service
work done in your home, keep your personal information out of sight.
• Give your SIN number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use another type of
identifying number whenever possible.
• Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet
unless you have initiated contact or know the business with which you are dealing.
• Compare your ATM receipts and cashed checks with your periodic bank statements to
check for unauthorized transfers or charges.
• Shred credit card statements, bank statements and pre-approved credit offers when you do
not need them. Consider investing in a paper shredder.
• Ask your bank about its privacy policies and information practices. Find out the
circumstances under which your bank would provide your account information to a third
• Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting agencies at least once
every year to review your file for possible fraud.Detection
One of the most frustrating aspects of identity fraud is that you may not discover it until it has
already occurred. Below are some of the warning signs:
• You receive bills for a credit card account you never opened, or you may notice unfamiliar
and unauthorized charges on your bills. Collection agencies may contact you regarding the
payment of such debts.
• A billing cycle passes without receiving your credit card statement — or other expected mail
- because it has been sent to a different address.
• Bank statements include transfers or withdrawals you do not remember, checks are missing
from your checkbook, or new checks do not arrive in the mail.
• You get turned down for a credit card, mortgage or other loan because your credit report
includes debts you never knew you had.Correcting the Problem
The most important thing to do when you discover identity fraud is to take action right away.
Remember to keep records of all your telephone calls and other correspondence with companies
regarding the identity fraud.
• File a report with the RCMP or the local police or the police in the community where the
identity theft took place. Keep a copy of the police report and make note of the date of your
report, in case your bank, Credit Card Company or other company needs proof of the
• If you suspect that your mail is being diverted to another address, check with your local post
office to see whether an unauthorized change of address form has been filed under your
• Call your credit card issuers right away to check on the status of your accounts if your bills
do not arrive on time. If necessary, close all your accounts. You should keep a record in a
safe place, separate from your credit cards, of your account numbers, expiration dates, and
the telephone numbers of each card issuer so you can report a loss quickly.
• Notify your bank at once if your ATM card has been stolen or if unauthorized transfers and
withdrawals have been made on one or more of your accounts. Alert your bank if your
checks are stolen or missing
• Canceling your credit cards may stop impostors from using your existing accounts, but it
does not stop them from opening new accounts under your name. To prevent this from
occurring, if your cards may have been misused by an unauthorized party, contact the fraud
departments of each of the three major credit bureaus and ask them to "flag" your file as
one belonging to a possible fraud victim. This warning will include a statement that creditors
should call to get your permission before approving new credit cards or loans in your name.