Identity Theft
April 08, 2014

Identity theft is the fastest growing type of fraud in North America. The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimates ID theft costs more than $2.5 billion a year to consumers, banks, credit card firms, stores and other businesses. 

To guard against identity theft, the Better Business Bureau encourages consumers to become informed of the methods used by ID thieves and become aware of how to manage your personal information with caution.

What is Identity Theft?

It happens when an impostor uses your personal information such as name, credit card number, social insurance number, for their own use -- for example, applying for a credit card, to make unauthorized purchases, gain access to your bank account, or obtain loans under your name. In the past, when a thief stole your wallet that person was after hard currency. Today, the thief is after your identity and will use all sorts of tactics to obtain bits and pieces of your identity from various sources such as looking through your garbage or recycling box, stealing your mail, 'phishing' - which is sending unsolicited emails, posing as your financial institution, contacting you and pretending they need such information in order for you to claim a prize or lottery winning, etc.

Reduce Your Risk

The Better Business Bureau makes the following recommendations:

1. Do not give out your personal information on the telephone, by email or regular mail, unless you understand completely who will be using it, why and how it will be used. 

2. Do not carry your Social Insurance Number (SIN) card as it is only legally required for very few federal and financial institutions. Only take it with you when necessary.

3. Guard your credit cards and minimize the number of cards you carry. That way, if you lose your wallet you don't lose everything. Cancel the credit cards you don't use anymore. Don't just cut the card up and throw it out; call the issuer of the card and cancel the account.

4. Protect your mail. If you have an outside mailbox, consider removing it and installing a slot in the door. For those living in apartment buildings with mail boxes in the lobby, remove all mail from the box as soon as possible because your bank statements or invoices can be a treasure trove of information. Do not have new credit cards mailed but rather have them delivered to your bank and picked up in person. If you move, redirect your mail right away otherwise all kinds of bills and statements could fall into the wrong hands - especially if the new occupants throw it away intact. 

5. Reduce the amount of unwanted mail and phone calls you receive. Every time you order from a catalogue or subscribe to a magazine, chances are your name has been placed on a list and direct marketers rent or buy such lists to promote other merchandise and services. Unchecked, this can result in a flood of unwanted mail, all of which increases the risk your name and address might be used by a fraudster. Contact the Canadian Marketing Association and request your name be placed on the "do not mail/do not call" list. Although this does not eliminate all unwanted solicitations, it will help reduce it. Call toll-free 1-800-267-8805 or go online to www.the-cma.org .

6. Be careful of what you toss in the trash. Those pre-approved credit offers or expired insurance forms, or bank statements are perfect for ID thieves. Purchase a small portable paper shredder, or make sure you tear the paper up in order to make it impossible to read your personal information.

7. Be smart about passwords and PINs. Shield the keypad when making a transaction in the store so that people in the line behind you cannot observe the numbers. Be extra careful when using at restaurants and gas stations or any location where you temporarily part company with your card as these are prime opportunities for 'skimming' (making a second unauthorized electronic record of your card information). At bank machines, don't forget to retrieve your card AND transaction record before you finish your business there.

8. Obtain a copy of your credit history from the credit bureaus Equifax or TransUnion Canada at least once a year and check the report for accuracy. Do this whether or not you are a victim of identity theft. If a fraudster has applied for credit in your name the report will reflect this.

If you become a Victim

Recovering from identity theft can be a long and complicated process. It is wise to keep a record of all communications, send all letters by certified mail and keep copies. 

Contact the fraud departments of each of the two major credit bureaus and request that a Fraud Alert be placed in your file. Order a copy of your credit report at the same time to check for any inconsistencies. 

Equifax: toll-free 1-800-465-7166 www.equifax.ca

TransUnion Canada: toll-free 1-866-525-0262 www.tuc.ca

File a report with your local Police. Although they are often unable to help, a report may be necessary to help convince creditors that someone else is using your personal information.

For more information on identity theft:

- Council of Better Business Bureaus:
www.bbb.org or www.bbbonline.org

- BC Crime Prevention Association:
www.bccpa.org tel: 604-529-1552

- Phonebusters:
www.phonebusters.com toll-free 1-888-495-8501

- Equifax: 
www.equifax.ca toll-free 1-800-465-7166

- TransUnion Canada:
www.tuc.ca toll-free 1-866-525-0262

- Canadian Marketing Assocation:
www.cmaconsumersense.org tel: 416-391-2362

- Vancouver Police Dept:
www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/police/crimeprevention