“Identity theft” is just what it sounds like; it’s the process of stealing someone else’s personal information (or their identity) with the intent to commit a crime, most often for financial gain. From drained bank accounts to poor credit ratings and even legal issues, identity theft can have some serious implications. Outsmart fraudsters by understanding the kinds of information they’re looking for and some simple steps you can take to prevent identity theft.
Identity thieves are looking for as much personal information as they can find, but according to the RCMP, they’re especially interested in your:
- full name
- date of birth
- Social Insurance Number (SIN)
- full address
- mother’s maiden name
- online usernames and passwords
- driver’s licence number
- personal identification numbers (PINs)
- credit card information
- bank account numbers
- passport number
How to avoid becoming a target for identity fraud
Here are a few easy ways you can protect your personal information from fraudsters:
- Keep track of your spending. Carefully review your credit card and bank statements each month (or even more often than that if you do your banking online). If you see a transaction you don’t recognize, contact your bank right away so they can investigate and prevent further charges to your card.
- Cancel lost or unused cards. If you lose your debit or credit card or suspect it has been stolen, contact your bank as soon as you notice it’s missing. Your bank may be able to track your recent transactions and determine if anything looks suspicious, and they’ll likely cancel your card. If you have a card you rarely use (and maybe you don’t check the statement as often as you should), you may not notice a fraudulent purchase. Consider cancelling cards you don’t use regularly.
- Shred private documents. Make sure bank statements, credit card receipts, and anything else containing personal information or your signature is shredded before it makes it to the side of the road.
- Take the “vanity plate” approach when creating passwords. It’s a good idea to use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols to spell out a word (e.g., t00cUt3, p4rtY0n, d0gLoV3r), and update your passwords often. To take this a step further, avoid hitting the “save password” button on your browser — saving your passwords can make it easier for someone to access your online accounts if they get their hands on your phone or laptop.
- Keep your phone on lockdown. Change the password or unlock pattern on your cell phone often or opt for a model with a fingerprint scanner. Not only could a password-protected phone be less tempting to thieves, but keeping your phone locked can prevent your personal information from getting into the wrong hands.
- Empty your mailbox (or go paperless). If your mailbox is accessible from outside your home, be sure to empty it daily to protect personal documents like bank statements and bills. Better yet, go paperless and opt to receive mail containing personal information by email instead of snail mail.
- Last but not least: don’t talk to strangers. This one might sound obvious, but it’s important to remember: always think twice before providing personal information over an unsolicited phone call, email, or text message. Read on to learn more about identifying identity fraud scams.
How to recognize potential scams
There are plenty of scams out there that are specifically designed to intimidate you into providing your personal information for fraudulent purposes. Here are three common scams that should raise red flags if you encounter them on the phone:
- Someone who claims to work for the CRA and insists that you owe the government money (or you could face jail time!)
- Someone who says they are opening a lawsuit against you and you must call them back immediately
- Someone who asks you to turn on your computer because they “found out it has a virus” and they want to “help you remove it”
Generally speaking, banks, government agencies, and other reputable organizations should never call, email, or text you to request personal information. If you do receive a phone call or message asking for personal information like your social insurance number, bank account information, credit card number, or passport number, hang up and call the bank or agency to report it right away. Check out these additional tips from the Government of Canada to protect yourself against scams.
Sometimes identity theft happens, despite your best efforts to prevent it — and that’s why many home, condo, and tenant insurance policies include coverage for some of the expenses that tend to follow identity theft. While specific coverage varies, it can include things like legal fees, the cost of sending certified mail, and lost wages for days you had to take time off work to deal with the issue. To learn how your own policy could protect you in the event of identity theft, reach out to your licensed insurance broker today.
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