How to protect yourself from identity theft

Un jeune homme regarde son téléphone

Picture this : you suddenly learn you have a doppelganger. A complete stranger is playing you for a fool or at least spending a lot of money in your name. Your bank accounts, contents of your smartphone, even the deed of your home, have been stolen. All under the radar.

An urban legend, you say? Not by a long shot! The sad truth is the number of people falling victim to identity theft in Canada is on the rise. Here’s a brief overview of this trend and some prevention tips to avoid a nightmare becoming reality.

What makes your identity attractive to thieves

Do you think nobody pays attention to your humble existence? Think again! Understand that thieves don’t give a hoot who you really are. They just want your personal information. In other words, anything allowing them to pass themselves off as you or act on your behalf.

To this end, they will try to acquire:

  • first and last name
  • birth date
  • social insurance number
  • adress
  • personal identification number (PIN)
  • passwords
  • driver's licence
  • passeport
  • debit and credit cards
  • handwritten or electronic signature

They will often sell this information to third parties. This unwelcome intrusion can pretty much happen any time, any place. So, what can you do to lower the risk of falling into a trap?

Watch out for pickpockets and posers

We get so easily distracted at any given moment in this technological and virtual age we live in, it’s easy to forget that the material world around us still exists. This collective attention deficit provides many opportunities for thieves to physically walk off with our personal information. Some old school classics:

  • Theft of wallet or handbag left unattended
  • Theft of passport packed in suitcase at hotel
  • Breaking and entering
  • Going through garbage or the recycling box to find bills, bank statements and other documents

Some of the better organized fraud artists use more sophisticated methods, including:

  • Electronic scanner: to record your bank or credit card data.
  • Camera: to record your movements when keying in your personal identification number (PIN).
  • Redirecting your mail: they change your address with Canada Post without your knowledge.

Finally, a professional imposter can connect directly with you. They are skilled at creating bonds of trust. They will find a number of excuses to get you to disclose personal information. The elderly can be particularly susceptible to this. Beware of charismatic newcomers who hang around you or your parents.

A few ways to protect yourself

Travel light and keep an eye on your belongings

Only bring must-have ID on your daily outings. Keep everything with you while traveling, especially your passport.

Leave other cards and identification safely tucked away, such as your social insurance number and birth certificate.

Use a shredder or fireplace

Don’t throw personal documents, bills, bank statements and even marketing offers in the garbage. Shred them.

Handle your bank cards with care

Most financial institutions now offer cards with a chip. If you have one, choose this payment method. If the chip doesn’t work or if your card doesn’t have one, make sure to discretely key in your PIN number away from prying eyes.

Pay attention to your mailbox

Pick up your mail regularly. Ask a relative or trusted neighbour to gather it if you’re travelling or ask Canada Post to hold it until you return.

Don’t leave anything valuable in your car

Your glove compartment is not a safe place to keep identification. Also avoid leaving any electronic devices in your car, like your phone or laptop.

Don’t take the online or phone phishing bait

Information technology is a real goldmine for fraudsters. It offers a fast and easy way to pull off huge scams and remain completely anonymous.

Navigating in total security can quickly become complicated to an inexperienced user. Doubt sets in, mouse click by mouse click. Some of the main strategies that scammers use include:

  • Install anti-virus and anti-spam filters and diligently keep up with recommended updates.
  • Only make online transactions if the site starts with ‘https’ and has a padlock icon.
  • Beware of emails or websites asking you to send personal information or money (one piece of advice: there are often a lot of errors in the message).
  • Use a password to secure your wireless network (Wi-Fi).
  • Encrypt confidential documents.
  • Before getting rid of a device, use software to permanently delete any files.
  • Exit a site securely after completing an online transaction. Log out and clear your browser cache.

Outsmart tech scammers and hackers

When in doubt, just don’t do it

Know for sure who you’re dealing with before giving out your personal information. Only disclose it when required by law. You should trust the person asking you to provide it. For example, don’t share your credit card number or any other personal information by phone, unless you made the call first.

Don’t send your personal information by email or on social networks, no matter how credible the organization may be that is requesting it.

Caution on social networks

Travel, anniversary, birthday, wedding, graduation, promotion, citizenship ceremony, buying a house: everyone likes to share the highlights of their life on social media. Think about all that personal information you’re giving away for free…

To cut the risk, avoid revealing dates, addresses, or any other detailed information in your posts.

Share vacation photos after you return and never post a pic of your personal documents (deed, lease, diploma, passport, etc.).

Change your password

Update your passwords often by using different character types. Choose them with care and never use things like a birthday, child or pet’s name.

Some more tech tips

  • Installez un antivirus et un filtre antipourriel, et faites assidûment les mises à jour recommandées.
  • Ne faites des transactions en ligne que si l’adresse du site débute par « https » et qu’il est protégé grâce à un cadenas.
  • Méfiez-vous des courriels ou des sites Web qui vous demandent de leur fournir des informations personnelles ou de l’argent (un truc: ils sont souvent truffés de fautes).
  • Sécurisez votre réseau sans fil (Wi-Fi) avec un mot de passe.
  • Cryptez vos documents qui sont de nature confidentielle.
  • Avant de vous débarrasser d’un appareil, détruisez pour toujours les fichiers qui s’y trouvent à l’aide d’un logiciel.
  • Si vous faites des transactions en ligne, quittez le site de façon sécuritaire. Déconnectez-vous et videz la cache de votre navigateur.

Sniff out the bandit trail

Detect suspicious transactions. Review your bank and credit card statements, as well as your phone bill history.

Track your credit score. Most banks allow you to do that.

Request your complete credit report from Equifax or TransUnion to make sure there are no irregular or suspicious transactions. You can also add a fraud alert to your credit report.

Get support from your insurer

As we hear again and again, being a victim of identity theft requires hours, even weeks, to navigate through the labryinth of phone calls, sworn statements and all the other steps required to re-establish your identity. Take action as soon as you realize you’ve been scammed.

The first step involves contacting your insurance company. They may be able to help in the event of identity theft.