How to avoid or recover from identity theft

Source: Consumer Protection Ontario

What to do if you’re a victim of identity theft and the steps you can take to keep your personal and financial information safe.

Types of ID fraud

Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information without your knowledge for criminal purposes.

They may use the stolen information to gain access to your financial accounts, hack into your online accounts, and/or defraud others. Once they access your personal information, identity thieves can also:

  • spend money from your accounts
  • open new bank accounts
  • change your passwords and contact information for your online accounts
  • apply for loans, credit cards and benefits in your name
  • rent an apartment or car
  • commit other crimes using your credentials

Another form of identity theft is when someone sets up accounts on social media channels or websites using your name, image and/or other information. While this may not cause harm to your financial accounts, it can harm your reputation.

If this happens, check the terms of the social media site or website to find out how to take action against the account that is falsely using your name or likeness. If criminal activity is involved – for example, if someone is creating fake online accounts in your name to harass you – take screen shots of the online activity and file a report with your local police.

How identity is stolen

Common methods include:

  • stealing your mail
  • looking for personal documents in your trash
  • tampering with ATMs or card machines in shops to steal your banking information
  • taking personal information through public sources (e.g., telephone books and social media)

Identity thieves generally look for:

  • credit cards
  • bank cards and PINs
  • passport
  • driver’s licence
  • SIN card

Your identity may also be stolen from your online transactions. If you don’t change your passwords and strengthen your web security features regularly, it can become easy for someone to access your:

  • email (to steal personal and financial information, schedules etc.)
  • online shopping accounts (to steal credit card and address information)
  • banking accounts (to transfer funds, open new accounts or apply for loans)
  • credit card accounts (to shop and apply for new cards)
  • government accounts (to change your contact information on government IDs, access benefits, etc.)

Signs of identity theft

Your personal information can be stolen without your knowledge.

Many people find out they’ve been the victim of identity theft when they’re denied a loan, job or rent unexpectedly because of a credit check.  This is why it’s very important to check your credit reportonce a year for errors or strange activities.

Others signs of identity theft include:

  • bills and statements don’t arrive when they are supposed to — they may have been stolen from your mailbox or someone may have changed the mailing address for your accounts
  • you receive calls from collection agencies or creditors for an account you don’t have
  • you receive notification from your bank, credit card or online business about a new account in your name, or added charges
  • financial account statements show withdrawals or transfers you didn’t make
  • a creditor calls to say you’ve been approved or denied credit that you haven’t applied for

If identity is stolen

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have step by step advice on what to do if you have mistakenly provided your personal information to an unknown person.

If you think your financial accounts have been breached, you can pay to put an alert on your credit report. This can alert those checking your credit to make sure they are dealing with you and not an imposter.

To minimize any further incidences and to begin the process of clearing any harm done,  you should:

  • keep a log of all your phone calls (write down the name of anyone you talked to, what he or she told you and the date your conversation occurred)
  • follow up in writing with contacts you’ve made on the telephone or in person to make sure you have a record of all agreements
  • make copies and keep all originals of supporting documentation, like police reports and letters to and from companies
  • keep old files even if you believe the case has been resolved, in case errors reappear on your credit reports or if old issues arise

Protect your identity

At home, make sure you:

  • empty your mailbox daily (if you’re going away on vacation, ask friends or trusted neighbours to pick up your mail or you can also opt for Canada Post’s “hold mail” service)
  • store ID cards and documents, such as birth certificates, social insurance numbers and passports, in a secure place such as a locked fireproof safe
  • shred any documents and items with personal information once you no longer need them (e.g., expired ID cards, credit card offers and financial statements)
  • check balances on your statements from banks, credit cards and companies regularly
  • report any strange activities in your bills and statements, however minor, right away (fraudsters often steal in small amounts from many cards to evade detection)
  • check your credit report once a year for errors or strange activities (you may also wish to consider purchasing a credit monitoring service that alerts you when there are changes to your credit report or score)
  • avoid giving out any personal information over the telephone unless you’ve placed the call yourself or know the business
  • avoid giving out sensitive personal information like a SIN number or credit card number over the telephone when you’re in a public place (you never know who may be listening)
  • don’t put more than your name and address on your personal cheques

When shopping, you should:

  • carry as few cards and documents as possible, and always check to see the credit card you get back from the cashier is your own
  • never tell anyone your banking PIN or credit card PIN
  • make sure no one is watching when you use a banking machine or ATM
  • avoid using banking or cash machines in isolated or dimly lit areas
  • avoid giving out too much personal information (you’re not required to provide stores your full mailing address, email address and date of birth)

If you’re online or on your mobile device:

  • change your passwords often and make them strong
  • avoid posting personal information online such as your date of birth and mailing address
  • make sure you review and understand the privacy settings on all social media sites you use before posting any update (you should review the privacy settings regularly as they often change)
  • disable the “geo-tracking” option on your phone before posting public photos on social media sites (by default, this option is enabled on most phones and it allows someone to figure out exactly where your photos were taken)
  • before you sell or dispose of your computer, phone or tablet, completely wipe its hard drive or have the hard drive or device destroyed
  • consider setting up email alerts that notify you each time your name is used somewhere online
  • avoid online shopping and banking when using public Wi-Fi as the connection may not be secure
  • before giving your credit card number or other financial information to a business, make sure that it’s a secure website (look for a lock symbol located somewhere on the web page or make sure the URL begins with “https”)
  • after completing a financial transaction online, make sure you sign out of the website and clear your browser’s cookies and cache
  • make sure your computer’s anti-virus and other security features to detect malware are up-to-date
  • don’t download apps or software on your phone or tablet unless they’re from official app stores or libraries
  • know that government organizations, financial institutions and police will never email or text to ask for your passwords or PINs
  • never click on a link from a spam message, especially when it promises rewards, prizes or any exclusive information
Updated: November 21, 2014
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