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Identity theft: Not just in the movies

08 February 2019 by National Bank
Identity theft: Not just in the movies

When you hear "identity theft," do you think of someone in a ridiculous wig and oversized sunglasses pretending to be someone else?

It might be funny on the big screen, but when identity theft happens in real life, it's a lot less theatrical. With enough of your personal information (first and last name, address, date of birth, social insurance number, phone number, etc.), a scammer can carry out bank transactions in your name, or use your money to buy the latest video game console or a new wardrobe. There's nothing funny about it.

Here's what to do if it happens to you:

1 - Take a deep breath, and find a paper and pen

First of all, don't panic (easier said than done). There's a lot you need to do and it's important to be thorough and methodical. Keep track of EVERYTHING you do, including the names of the institutions and people you contact, the date and time of your call, the information received and any confirmation numbers you receive. You should also check if you have access to assistance in case of identity theft, or if coverage is included with your home insurance. Insurance policies often include a clause in case of identity theft, providing access to specialized assistance and, in some cases, a lawyer’s services. You may be able to claim some legal fees or costs involved in restoring your identity.

2 - Review your banking transactions

Next, go over all the activity in your bank and credit card accounts to identify any fraudulent transactions, and notify ALL the financial institutions involved. If an account has been compromised, the bank will let you know how to replace your cards, secure your account and get a refund, if applicable. If there doesn't appear to be any suspicious activity in your accounts, the bank will usually include a note on your file to warn of potential fraud.

Change all your PINs as well as your passwords for your email, social media and online banking accounts, since they're often linked. And whatever you do, don't use 1-2-3-4-5!

3 - Call the police

Reporting the theft will help you prove that the transactions carried out in your name are fraudulent (and may help the police catch the perpetrator).

4 - Notify the credit bureaus

The next step is to notify the two major credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, of the identity theft. They'll include a "Fraud Warning" on your file so that any time a credit request is made in your name, you'll be contacted by telephone to make sure the request comes from you. You can also obtain a copy of your credit report so you can review any activity on your file.

5 - Fill out an official form

You're nearly there! There's just a bit more paperwork to do: Fill out an Identity Theft Statement and file a complaint with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Lastly, if your ID has been stolen (e.g. passport, driver's license), contact the appropriate government agencies to report the situation and find out how to proceed.

6 - Stay alert

Once you've taken all the necessary steps, keep a close eye on your affairs. Someone who applies for government assistance in your name and has the money deposited to their account is a lot harder to detect than someone who drains your bank account. Read your mail carefully, even letters from institutions you don't do business with. If someone is using your name, a letter could be the first sign. The fraud alert you've placed with the credit bureau will also ensure you receive a call anytime a request is made in your name.

Protect yourself against identity theft

After reading this article, you're probably crossing your fingers and hoping it never happens to you. (When it comes to unexpected life events, wouldn't we all rather win the lottery than fall victim to identity theft?)

Luckily, there's a lot you can do to reduce the risk of having your personal information stolen. To use your identity, scammers need access to your personal information. Protect it well!

Here are some tips:

  • Never provide information by email (access codes, PINs, phone numbers, social insurance numbers) and never open an attachment without being 100% sure of the source. It could contain a virus that allows a scammer to access the information on your computer. (That aunt of yours who still forwards chain letters in 2019? Send them straight to your junk folder. She may be transferring harmful attachments without realizing it.)
  • Every time you give out personal information, make sure you know who you're giving it to. Check whether they really need the information—does a landlord really need your social insurance number to rent you an apartment?
  • Watch out for social media! Displaying your birthdate on Facebook means you'll get a lot of "happy birthday" messages, but it also makes things easier for scammers. It's better to not to include it in your profile, at least not in full. It may seem like a no-brainer, but posting the picture page of your passport to announce your upcoming vacation is also big no-no. If you haven't already, change your settings so your profile is only visible to your friends.
  • If you need to provide confidential information, do it over the phone (by calling the number yourself), rather than by email. The less personal information you put online, the better.
  • Only carry the cards you actually need—replacing a wallet full of cards is a real hassle. Keep track of your wallet when you're out. Don't keep it in your coat pocket on the back of your chair at a restaurant, for example. A pickpocket will have no trouble making off with it.
  • Cut up any expired identity documents or cards into pieces (not just in half!) before throwing them out. Shred or tear up your personal mail. You want to make it as hard as possible for someone to get their hands on your information. It's also a good idea to put a lock on your mailbox to prevent any neighbours from stealing your mail.
  • If you don't have a passcode lock on your cell phone, set one up ASAP—your phone is a gold mine of personal information. Better yet, if it's an option, set up fingerprint or facial recognition to unlock your phone.

(If you're getting a bit paranoid reading this article, click here for more advice.)

Despite all these precautions, you may still fall victim to identity theft. Consider signing up for an assistance service or home insurance that includes support in case of identity theft. After all, identity theft is something that just happens to other people...until it happens to you!

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