“Identity theft” is just what it sounds like; it’s the process of stealing someone else’s personal information (or their identity) 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
  • signature
  • passport number

To protect your private information and prevent identity theft, keep these tips in mind:

  1. 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; your bank can investigate and prevent further charges to your card.
  2. 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.
  3. Rip it to shreds. 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.
  4. Be vain. When creating passwords, take the “vanity plate” approach; 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. Generally speaking, banks and government agencies should never call, email, or text you to request personal information. If you do receive such a phone call or message, hang up and call the bank or agency to report it right away.

Sometimes identity theft happens, despite your best efforts to prevent it — and that’s why many home insurance 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 skip out on 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.