Canada: Protecting Your Personal Data

Last Updated: August 27 2015
Article by Jim A. Barbour, CPA (CN), CIA, CRMA, CFE

As we use an increasing number of online services, personal information is sent out onto the Internet at an alarming rate. But is your information safe?

In the dark corners of the Internet lurk cyber criminals who prey on unsuspecting individuals by stealing personal information and using it for their own gain.

According to the latest statistics from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, there were 1,812 identity fraud complaints from Canadians in December 2014 alone. The losses from these frauds added up to $900,000 for the month and a staggering $1 0,000,000 for 2014!

This is the reality of the online world we live in. The number of fraud complaints increases each year with the most common victims being individuals aged 50-70 or "baby boomers".

Many baby boomers are targeted by identity thieves for their accumulated inheritances, substantial home equity and lifetime of savings.

When money is combined with cognitive fatigue among aging baby boomers, it can be a recipe for fraud. Older adults who spend a lifetime building good credit have a lot to lose.

Cyber-criminals look for personal information such as passwords, account numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs) and social insurance numbers (SINs). With this information they can access your bank and investment accounts, apply for loans, mortgages and credit cards, and/or receive government benefits all in your name. And the list goes on.

People who become victims of identity theft take years to recover from the damage to their finances and reputation - all the more reason to better protect your personal data.

To minimize the risk of cyber-attacks on your personal data, it is prudent to be aware of the common tactics used to steal personal information.

Boomers tend to receive a significant amount of advertisements regarding medical care, asset management, investment opportunities and many other services that cyber-criminals can use as a front.

Cyber thieves use forged email messages and websites to impersonate legitimate organizations to trick you into disclosing personal information.

Hackers can gain access to your computer and install keystroke loggers that steal data or capture account names and passwords as you type them without your knowledge. You can protect your personal data by being vigilant. Look out for fraud's red flags:

  • Unsolicited email messages, telephone calls, mail from an unknown origin or overseas that request personal or financial information
  • Mailings and offers that want an urgent response, cash payment or money sent by wire transfers, prepaid cards or cheques
  • Investment offers that look too good to be true and cannot be questioned, inspected or checked out further
  • Offers that suggest recipients not tell family or friends about the offer
  • In addition to looking out for red flags, here are some good habits suggested by the RCMP that can reduce your chances of falling victim to cyber-crime:
  • Keep your computer software updated: use strong passwords, firewalls, and anti-virus software
  • Secure your mobile devices and wireless networks
  • Never conduct financial transactions on public Wi-Fi networks or "hot spots" and encrypt sensitive information such as tax returns
  • Confirm that the business or website is legitimate before divulging personal data and only provide the minimum information required
  • Ensure websites are secure prior to submitting your credit card number or other sensitive information.
  • Websites should begin with https:// (hypertext transfer protocol secure) rather than just http://
  • Review your credit reports at least annually
  • Review bank and credit card statements every month for any suspicious activity
  • Immediately report unauthorized transactions to the respective financial institutions
  • When personal and financial documents are no longer needed, shred them

Still, even with all these measures, it is difficult to protect your personal data when a third-party such as a bank or employer has been breached. If this has occurred, do not panic, but quickly take steps to minimize the damage:

  • Close financial accounts that may be compromised
  • Report your identification (driver's licence, passport, birth certificate) that may be lost or stolen
  • Put a fraud alert on your credit report and track it closely in the following years

Here is the key message:

To avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime and identity theft, diligently protect your personal information, monitor your accounts and follow up.


Jim is Ontario Regional Managing Director of Crowe Horwath Global Risk Consulting. CHGRC is a global professional services firm assisting global companies with their governance, risk and compliance needs.

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.

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Jim A. Barbour, CPA (CN), CIA, CRMA, CFE
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