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Preventing Identity Theft

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# Wednesday, 16 July 2008
Wednesday, 16 July 2008 18:01:10 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) ( General Life )

Identity theft has quickly become one of the most fastest-rising crimes in Canada as well as the United States. By 2002, over 7000 Canadians had reported identity theft to the PhoneBusters National Call centre, with losses being reported at over $8 million. In the first quarter of 2003 alone, over another 2000 cases were reported, with estimated losses of more than $5 million. As well, 2 major Canadian credit bureaus have indicated that they have received approximately 1400-1800 Canadian identity theft complaints every month. The majority of these received complaints have been from residents of Ontario.

As Canadians are constantly becoming more reliant on using bank cards and/or credit cards, they can be leaving themselves at risk of someone gaining access to their data. As well, many Canadians are unaware of the personal information that their employer and/or government agencies have on file, which can also potentially be a target for identity thieves.

In order to protect yourself from identity theft you should be aware about how exactly most identity theft occurs. The most common ways that your information is accessed is:

• Theft of documents, credit cards, bank cards, etc. Theft of a wallet or purse is usually noticed very quickly. The owner can then call all of the credit card companies etc. to notify them of the theft in order to close those accounts. However, thieves have begun to also check people's mailboxes in order to steal bank statements as well as credit card statements, thereby gaining your information. Some banks also issue letters that contain "pre-approved credit card" offers; these can be stolen with the thief posing as you and asking for an address change. If you throw out any financial documents, including bill statements, make sure you shred them or otherwise destroy them first.
• Shoulder Surfing.
Thieves can look over your shoulder or from a location nearby while you are using an ATM and gain access to your PIN. Then, by distracting you, your card can be switched with another one, now giving the thief (or thieves) access to your bank account. Another common method is by installing a fake ATM device that reads your card's encoded data. When using an ATM machine, guard your hand with the other one when keying in your PIN.
• Skimming.
Your information can be stolen when thieves "skim" or "swipe" your credit card at restaurants, stores, etc with a device known as a skimmer. The skimmer records all your personal information data from the magnetic stripes on the back of your card. This information is then usually transferred to another location (commonly overseas) where it is re-encoded onto fraudulently made credit cards.
• Email spam. Most every Canadian has, by now, received an email purporting to be from their bank, paypal account, etc. that asks you to visit their website and update your information. Reputable banks or other financial institutions will never ask you to do this. This is a ploy for thieves to gather your personal information in order for illegal activities.
• Company and/or government database theft. There has been a significant increase of identity thieves trying to access large databases of personal information. This is happening in both the private as well as public business sectors.

To avoid being a victim of identity theft it is important to understand where the risk lies, and where you are potentially the most vulnerable. To minimize the risk of having your identity stolen:

• Sign any and all new credit cards immediately when receiving them and never lend them out to anyone.
• Keep a current list of all active cards you use and destroy ones that you longer use; update this list on a regular basis.
• Don't carry all of your identification with you if it is not needed on a daily basis (i.e. Social Insurance Number card, passport). These items should be stored in a secured environment until needed; they contain a lot of your personal information which if stolen, can be used to obtain fraudulent credit cards and bank accounts.
• Know your billing cycles. Notify your creditors and/or utility companies if your bills do not arrive at the same time each month (someone could be stealing them from your mailbox for the information).
• Closely check each itemized statement on your credit card bills in order to ensure that these actually are your purchases. Any discrepancy should be immediately reported to the issuing credit card company. Likewise, immediately report any card which you suspect is missing and/or stolen.
• Shred or otherwise effectively destroy any and all financial documents. This includes ATM receipts, credit card receipts, utility bills, as well as any other paper document that contains personal and/or account information. This also applies to any credit card applications that may be mailed to you.
• Make sure that any financial information you have in your home/office is stored securely, preferably locked up
• NEVER give any personal information over the phone, through the mail and/or over the internet unless it is you who has initiated contact and it is with someone you can verify. Reputable companies will never solicit you in this manner, so anyone who asks for your personal information in these ways is usually a thief.
• If you write down the passwords to your bank card, credit cards, etc. do not keep this information in your purse and/or wallet. If you need to have a written record of your passwords, store them safely, preferably in a locked storage space. This rule also applies to computer passwords.
• Check your credit report on a yearly basis in order to see that this information is correct and includes only your personally authorized activities.

If you have been the victim of identity theft, immediately report it to the bank and/or credit card issuer from which funds have been illegally obtained. You should also immediately report the illegal activity to your local police so that this information can be forwarded to the proper investigating department. Your creditor may require proof that you have made a police report in order to reimburse you for any unauthorized charges/withdrawals.

For more detailed information on identity theft, and to track the current trends in this area, Ontario residents can visit PhoneBusters. You can also use this resource to report any suspected criminal activity regarding your finances.

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