What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your name and other personal information with the intention of assuming your identity to gain access to your finances, make purchases and incur debts in your name, or commit other crimes. In addition to names, addresses and phone numbers, thieves steal social insurance numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit card and banking information, bank cards, calling cards, birth certificates and passports. Once this information is stolen, it can be used to finance spending sprees and open new bank accounts, or to redirect your mail and apply for loans, credit cards and social benefits.
How to fight identity theft
- Minimize the risk. Be careful about sharing personal information or letting it circulate freely.
- 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.
- 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.
- Take advantage of technologies that enhance your security and privacy when you use the Internet, such as digital signatures, data encryption, and “anonymizing” services.
- 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 illicitly redirected.
- Notify creditors immediately if your identification or credit cards are lost or stolen.
- 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.
- Choose difficult passwords – not your mother's maiden name. Memorise them, change them often.
- Don't write them down and leave them in your wallet, or some equally obvious place.
- Key in personal identification numbers privately when you use direct purchase terminals, bank machines, or telephones.
- Find out if your cardholder agreement offers protection from credit card fraud; you may be able to avoid taking on the identity thief's debts.
- 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.
Are you a victim of identity theft?
- Report the crime to the police immediately.
- Take steps to undo the damage. Avoid “credit-repair” companies: there is usually nothing they can do, and some have been known to propose a solution – establishing credit under a new identity – that is itself fraudulent.
- Document the steps you take and the expenses you incur to clear your name and re-establish your credit.
- Cancel your credit cards and get new ones issued. Ask the creditors about accounts tampered with or opened fraudulently in your name.
- 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.
- Close your bank accounts and open new ones. Insist on password-only access to them.
Get new bank machine and telephone calling cards, with new passwords or personal identification numbers.
- In the case of passport theft, contact the police and Passport Office.
- Advise your telephone, cable, and utilities that someone using your name could try to open new accounts fraudulently.
- Get a new driver's licence.