By Kelley Keehn,
FP Canada Consumer Advocate
The increased use of credit and debit cards, online shopping and social media has changed financial management radically from only a decade ago. While these changes have brought speed, convenience and connectivity, they’ve also opened the door to identity theft and fraud.
According to the Competition Bureau of Canada, over a recent two-year period Canadians reported almost $300 million lost to fraud. However, the actual amount lost to fraudsters is likely much larger, since it’s estimated only 5% of people ever report they’ve been victims of this crime.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft may initially start with credit card fraud; however, it’s much more broad-based and can be devastating. Identify theft can include one or more of the following:
Multiple purchases charged to your credit cards
Cell phones obtained and large bills run up in your name
Loans, mortgages or lines of credit obtained in your name and funded to a third party
The sale of your home without your knowledge (title insurance theft)
Crimes committed in your name
Government and other benefits applied for
It can take four full weeks or more of your own time to undo the damages of identity theft. Taking steps to detect identity theft early can help minimize its impact.
How to protect yourself
Preventing identity theft means understanding the threats and taking steps to protect yourself and your family. Consider these three keys ways to help safeguard your identity:
1. Keep personal information confidential
Your personal details should be treated as if they were cash―don’t leave them where others may have easy access.
A Social Insurance Number, for example, is such a key piece of individual identity that Service Canada has stopped issuing SIN cards. Your SIN must remain protected at all times:
Never divulge your SIN unless it’s to the government or your employer, when you’re opening an RRSP or RESP, or any time you need to declare income
Never store your SIN on your computer
Never keep your SIN card in your wallet
Know where your SIN card is located and ensure that it is secure
Securely lock away any documents that contain personal information, such as date of birth, SIN and/or financial data. Be sure to safeguard passports; bank, credit card and investment statements; wills; deeds; and insurance policies.
2. Check your credit report regularly
A check of your credit report can help uncover and stop identity theft. The report shows any loans, credit cards, mortgages, or other credit that has been requested in your name. If organizations you’re not doing business with are listed, this can be a red flag that your identity has been compromised.
In Canada, credit reports are available free of charge in person or via mail, regardless of how often you check. Credit reports are also available online, for a fee. The two reporting agencies in Canada are Equifax and TransUnion. Checking your credit report does not affect your credit score.
3. Set up a fraud alert
Place a proactive credit alert on your file. It costs as little as $5, lasts for six years and offers an added level of protection. With an alert on your file, creditors must call you when someone is seeking credit in your name.
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