Identity theft is one of the most invasive and potentially damaging forms of theft. And, in a post-Covid world, it has become far more frequent. As we all moved more and more online over past few years to make purchases, do our banking, and manage our daily lives, identity thieves have had greater opportunity to swoop in and steal personal information.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when someone gains access to your personal information, such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers or your driver’s license, for the purposes of financial gain. Any piece of identification that allows someone else to pretend to be you may be used to steal your identity and your money. It can mean the loss of property and money and along with it, your personal credit score and even your reputation.
Once a thief has your personal information, they can use it in many ways, including gaining access to:
- Your computer and email accounts
- Your bank accounts
- Your credit cards
Which may allow the thief to:
- Open new bank accounts in your name
- Transfer money out of your bank account
- Apply for loans and credit cards
- Make purchases
- Obtain passports or receive government benefits
Identity thieves can strike at any time and can target anyone using email, telephone, or even regular mail. Always be extra cautious when you receive unsolicited emails, telephone calls or mail that asks for your personal or financial information.
6 ways to help prevent identity theft
1. Protect your passwords
One of the easiest ways to protect your privacy online is to change your passwords and PINs regularly, and to never use the same password or PIN for different accounts.
2. Shred personal information
If you throw away paper credit card bills, banks statement or other personal information, shred it first.
3. Check on late credit card bills
Whether you get your credit card bills by email or regular mail, if a bill is late, it may mean that it has been stolen. A stolen bill can provide a lot of information that can be used to steal your identity. If your credit card bill doesn’t arrive as expected, call your credit card carrier to let them know. If your bill was stolen, this will provide a record and can help prevent you from being responsible for purchases you did not authorize.
4. Don’t give out personal or financial information…EVER
Your bank or credit card company will never call you to ask for your account numbers. They already have that information! And they will never, EVER, call you to ask for personal information like your password. If you call them, they may ask for this information, and that’s OK, because they want to ensure you are who you say you are, and you know that you are speaking with the company because YOU called THEM.
5. Don’t take the bait
Identity thieves use a technique called “phishing.” This is when they try to get you to give them sensitive data, such as bank account or credit card numbers, through a fraudulent offer in an email or on a website. When phishing, identity thieves will almost always pose as a legitimate business to try to fool you. They may say that you won something or have been chosen to receive something special. The catch is always that you must give them some personal information in order to get your reward. Simply put, this is NEVER how a legitimate contest or giveaway should operate. Never provide any personal or financial information over the phone or online unless you have initiated the contact and know exactly who you are speaking with.
6. Don’t overshare
Many of us post a lot of information on social media and this can be a great hunting ground for people who want to steal your identity. Without even thinking about it, you could be telling potential thieves when your birthday is (those party shots!), who your employer is (posting about the new job you just landed) and where you live (pictures or news-related items about your town). This information is key for identity theft so be careful about what you share.
What do to if you are a victim of identity theft
If you think your identity has been stolen, you need to act as quickly as possible to stop any potential financial and personal impact. You should immediately:
- Notify your financial institution and the local police
- Contact the CRA at 1-800-959-8281
- Report the theft to a credit reporting agency such as Equifax or TransUnion
- Record all recent purchases, payments, and financial transactions
- Call 1-800-O-Canada (1-800-622-6232) for information on where and how to replace identity cards such as your health card, driver’s license, or SIN, if necessary
When it comes to protecting your identity, you can never be too skeptical or too cautious.
For more information
- Personal finance and saving