Unfortunately, identity theft is very common today. In fact, it affects millions of people in North America each year. Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information for criminal purposes. For example, your mail is stolen which happens to include your monthly credit card statement. The thief calls the credit card company to change the billing address. The thief puts through charges and you may not even notice there is an issue for some time.
Thieves can use your personal information to obtain credit cards, establish a cell phone, rent vehicles, establish a bank account in your name, apply for driver licenses and loans, etc. Victims can spend a huge amount of time trying to restore, and potentially be responsible for the fraudster's debts if money was borrowed in your name.
Businesses need to vigilant in protecting personal data. For example, hackers are increasingly successful at hacking into the electronic records of businesses to steal personnel records. Employees have also been duped by "phishing" where a hacker poses as a legitimate company through email. For example, the employee receives an email supposedly from Paypal indicating that the employee's account has expired and the employee's personal information must be entered in order to re-activate the account. Another trend on the increase is the use of computer viruses whereby thieves can steal your personal information as you enter confidential user names and passwords on your computer.
Here are some tips to protect you and your business against identity theft. First, safeguard your personal information. Be sure to shred personal information instead of just throwing it in the garbage can. Don't release any personal information about yourself over the telephone. Be suspicious of telephone surveys or bank representatives that call you at home on the weekend. Verify that the person asking for information over the telephone is in fact an employee of that organization. Never email personal or financial information and be cautious of opening attachments of emails if you do not know who they are from.
Second, be aware of suspicious circumstances. For example, be suspicious if your bills do not arrive and follow up with the company. If you are receiving calls about bills for accounts that you don't have, this is cause for concern. Review credit card statements, bank statements and any online broker accounts for unauthorized charges. It is also a good idea to check your credit report periodically for any unusual activity.
Finally, if you own a business, implement controls to protect
your business from identity theft. Know how your business receives,
collects and maintains personal information and who has access to
this information. Keep only the personal information that is
actually needed. For example, truncate visa numbers, delete the
expiry date, and don't keep credit card information longer than
necessary. Cabinets containing sensitive information should be
locked with appropriate access controls. Be sure to implement
encryption, passwords and firewalls to appropriately protect access
to your business.
If you are a victim, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPCC) recommends that you contact:
- Your local police and ask them to take a report. Make sure that you ask for a copy so that you can provide it to the organizations that you will have to contact later.
- Every organization, such as a credit card company, where credit may have been fraudulently obtained in your name. Provide details of what happened, ask them to investigate and take appropriate actions such as closing accounts or cancelling cards.
- Major credit reporting agencies. Ask for a copy of your credit report and discuss whether your file should be marked with a fraud alert, which will advise creditors to contact you before opening or changing accounts.
- PhoneBusters, a police organization that collects information about identity theft and offers advice to victims. 1-888-495-8501 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Reporting Economic Crime Online (RECOL), a partnership involving international, federal and provincial law enforcement agencies (www.recol.ca)
- Any government offices that issued any documents stolen or misused as part of the identity fraud.
The OPCC also recommends that you:
- Keep a detailed log of who you have called and what was said and document any expenses you incur as you clear your name and re-establish your credit.
- Be cautious about using "credit-repair" companies. There is usually nothing they can do, and some have been known to propose a solution – establishing credit under a new identity – that is itself fraudulent.
- Close your bank accounts and open new ones. Insist on password-only access to them.
- Get new bank machine and calling cards with new passwords or personal identification numbers (PINs).
- Get a new driver's license.
- Tell your telephone, cable and utility companies that someone using your name could try to open new accounts fraudulently.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.