Protect yourself from ID theft

Is someone out there pretending to be you? Police say no matter how careful you are about your personal information, skilled identity thieves can get hold of it. They can apply for credit cards in your name and run up charges to the limits.

In the past year, over 5,500 Canadians have had their identities stolen.

“It’s even possible for ID crooks to take out a mortgage in your name in another city,” said Barry Elliott, Detective Staff Sergeant with the Ontario Provincial Police and the national Phonebusters fraud centre. He spoke recently in Toronto at a CARP sponsored seminar on fraud protection. 

Steal purses, garbage
Over 100 people listened to Elliott describe methods ID thieves use to get access to personal data. He says they steal wallets and purses, rummage in the mail or garbage for bank and credit card statements and use personal information shared online. 

“Your card number, expiry date and your name—that’s all that’s needed to run your card up to the max. Anytime you buy a product over the phone, or via the Internet, you have to give out your card information. So it’s not that hard for ID thies to get a hold of your information,” Elliott told his audience of CARP members.
“One in 20 people have unauthorized charges on their credit cards. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your credit card. In fact, you should use your credit card whenever you can. It’s a good way to buy products. Because you’re ensured with your credit card company if you are the victim of fraud, and you report it within 60 to 90 days. You won’t lose money.”

What to do
Elliott has these tips for protecting yourself from ID theft:  

  • Before you reveal personal information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared with others. Ask if it’s possible to keep it confidential.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. (Identity thieves can take over a credit card account and change the billing address to cover their tracks.)
  • Shred or rip up credit card applications or personal information before tossing these out in the garbage. 
  • Give your SIN number only when absolutely necessary. Use other identifying data when possible.
  • Don’t carry your SIN card. Leave it in a secure place.
  • Order a copy of your credit report each year. It’s free. Make sure it’s accurate and includes only activities you’ve authorized.

Check credit rating
Canada’s two major credit reporting agencies are Equifax—1-800-465-7166; Trans Union—all provinces except Quebec call 1-800-663-9980; Quebec residents call: 1-877-713-3393.

Request a report from each one annually to make sure your credit rating is as it should be.