Goldhawk Fights Back: Keeping Your Identity to Yourself

This is a weekly column by Dale Goldhawk, Canada’s best-known consumer advocate. A journalist, author and broadcaster, Dale hosts Goldhawk Fights Back For You, on AM 740 or at AM740 ZoomerRadio, Monday through Friday from 11 am to 1 pm, in the eastern time zone. Visit his website at

Here is how the bad guys do it. Somehow they get their hands on your name and date of birth, your address, a credit card number and expiry date and your Social Insurance Number. Then they build a new, financial you. With that kind of information, they can apply for new credit cards, open bank accounts, re-direct your snail mail, sign a contract for a cell phone, rent a car, sign a lease on an apartment or even get a job.

Then when it comes time to pay for all the goods and services they signed up for, pretending they’re you, they disappear. Bill collectors find you and then the no-fun begins. You could be left with the bills, charges, bad cheques, and taxes.

Repairing the damage to your good name takes a lot of time and triggers more aggravation than you might think possible. One ray of sunshine: Likely in the long run, you will not be forced to pay the bogus charges, as long as you report them as soon as you can and also demonstrate you were not careless with, for example, the use of your credit or debit card PIN.

The best way to guard against identity theft in the first place, is to be careful with your personal information.

Do not subscribe to that old, worn-out theory that says something like: “well, I have nothing to hide so why not hand over personal information when somebody asks.”

Sure, you might not have anything to hide but you do have something to lose — your identity.

Now that it’s Fraud Awareness month, the Privacy Commissioner for Canada has issued updated tips for keeping our personal information to ourselves. Here are a few of them:

1. Minimize the risk. When you are asked to provide personal information, ask how it will be used, why it is needed, who will be sharing it and how it will be safeguarded. Give out no more than the minimum, and carry the least possible with you. Be particularly careful about your Social Insurance Number; it is an important key to your identity, especially in credit reports and computer databases.

2. Don’t give your credit card number on the telephone, by electronic mail, or to a voice mailbox, unless you know the person with whom you’re communicating or you initiated the communication yourself — and you know that the communication channel is secure.

3. Pay attention to your billing cycle. If credit card or utility bills fail to arrive, contact the companies to ensure that they have not been redirected by an identity thief.

4. Notify creditors immediately if your identification or credit cards are lost or stolen.

5. Access your credit report from a credit reporting agency once a year to ensure it’s accurate and doesn’t include debts or activities you haven’t authorized or incurred. Ask that your accounts require passwords before any inquiries or changes can be made, whenever possible.

6. Choose difficult passwords — not your mother’s maiden name. Memorize them, change them often. Don’t write them down and leave them in your wallet, or some equally obvious place.

7. Key in personal identification numbers privately when you use direct purchase terminals, bank machines or telephones.

8. Be careful what you throw out. Burn or shred personal financial information such as statements, credit card offers, receipts, insurance forms, etc. Insist that businesses you deal with do the same.

The Privacy Commissioner’s Office has also issued a list of steps to take if you discover that you have become a victim of identity theft. You’ll understand why I warned about the time and aggravation involved in re-claiming your identity.

1. Report the crime to the police immediately. Ask for a copy of the police report so that you can provide proof of the theft to the organizations that you will have to contact later.

2. Take steps to undo the damage. Avoid “credit-repair” companies. There is usually nothing they can do. Some have been known to propose a solution — establishing credit under a new identity — that is itself fraudulent.

3. Document the steps you take and the expenses you incur to clear your name and re-establish your credit.

4. Cancel your credit cards and get new ones issued. Ask the creditors about accounts tampered with or opened fraudulently in your name.

5. Have your credit report annotated to reflect the identity theft. Do a follow-up check three months after to ensure that someone has not tried to use your identity again.

6. Close your bank accounts and open new ones. Insist on password-only access to them.

7. Get new bank machine and telephone calling cards, with new passwords or personal identification numbers.

8. In the case of passport theft, advise the Passport Office.

9. Contact Canada Post if you suspect that someone is diverting your mail.

10. Advise your telephone, cable, and utilities that someone using your name could try to open new accounts fraudulently.

11. Get a new driver’s licence.

12. If you suspect that someone has been using your SIN to get a job, or that your SIN has been compromised in some other way, contact Service Canada.

See what I mean? Better to take all the steps you can to prevent this crime from happening. Happy Fraud Awareness month.

Photo © Brian Jackson

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Dale GoldhawkGemini award nominee, journalist and broadcaster, Dale Goldhawk has earned Canada’s trust by his four decades of work exposing fraud and greed in the marketplace. To read more of his articles, go to (now part of the ZoomerMedia family of websites).

Don’t miss Goldhawk Fights Back , on the New AM740 Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.