An increasing number of people are concerned about identity theft. And with good reason! In recent years, crimes related to identity theft have been on the rise. This is not a subject to be taken lightly. Let’s look at the issue and explore ways to prevent identity theft.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is a crime committed by gaining access to your personal data and using it for criminal purposes. “Personal data” means any information or document that proves your identity. This can be used to access your bank account or to apply for a loan or passport, for example. It can even be used to take out a mortgage. And all this could happen without you even being aware of it!
The unfortunate consequences of identity theft
You’ve probably heard some horror stories about identity theft. Some people manage to react in time, thus limiting damages. Others fall prey to skilled criminals or sophisticated schemes. As a result, these people can find themselves in a very difficult situation.
Of course, the first possibilities that comes to mind are a large withdrawal or a loan made in your name, without your knowledge. Some people have seen their savings almost completely wiped out. Such an episode can also leave a black mark on your credit report, making it very difficult to obtain a new loan, for example. Another good reason to take preventative measures against identity theft.
Waste of time and worries
When your identity is stolen, you have no choice but to deal with the situation: this can turn out to be very time consuming. Not to mention the stress! And afterwards, you must re-establish your identity. Depending on the case, this can take dozens, even hundreds of hours. Unfortunately, at the end of the process, some people still won’t have their identity fully restored. This means that they will never be completely safe from another such episode.
What to do if I’ve been a victim of identity theft?
If you discover that you are a victim of identity theft, react immediately, but try to keep a cool head. You'll need to focus on helping the proper authorities trace the source of the crime. You will need to contact the police to report the crime, as well as the fraud, if any. In this case, report it immediately to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
It is paramount to keep a detailed record of all the steps you’ve taken. Make a note of your case number once you’ve made a police report. Try to determine if there have been any fraudulent transactions, and when they occurred. Also, fill out an identity theft declaration form. This document helps you notify your financial institutions, credit card companies or any other institution involved.
There are two credit agencies in Canada: Equifax and TransUnion. They can issue a fraud alert on your credit file. This means that lenders will have to contact you as soon as someone tries to borrow money in your name. You can check your credit report annually with either of these agencies.
Actions to take in case of identity theft
Here is a list of actions to take, depending on the extent of the identity theft:
- Cancel your credit cards
- Change all your passwords
- Close your bank accounts to open new ones
- Notify government services
- Notify your various suppliers (internet, telephone, etc.)
- Notify Canada Post (in the case your mailing address has been hijacked)
Imagine how time-consuming and energy-consuming this can be! Our advice is to take it one step at a time and be patient. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre can help you find support if you need it.
What can I do to prevent identity theft?
While no one is entirely immune to identity theft, early vigilance can help protect you.
- Make it a habit to check your bank and credit card statements regularly for any unusual transactions.
- Keep an up-to-date list of your financial institutions and their contact information.
- VERY IMPORTANT: Use passwords that do not contain personal information (date of birth, phone number, etc.) You can also change your passwords from time to time.
- Make sure your computer has an adequate anti-virus program.
- Be wary of any e-mail or text message that may seem suspicious: if in doubt, refrain from responding.
- When you must throw away a credit card statement, or any other document that contains personal information, destroy it.
Preventing identity theft: Caution is the key word!
Sometimes we tend to let our guard down, and we get used to conducting transactions online. However, to prevent identity theft, it is crucial to always do things appropriately. While you may not want to live in constant anxiety, being cautious is always healthy.