Identity theft is a growing problem around the world. Unfortunately, no one can completely protect themselves from sophisticated tactics, but there are multiple protective strategies that can help prevent and minimize the risk of identity theft. Below, we review what identity theft is, tips to prevent it and safeguard your personal information, and illustrate how easily it can occur when a person lets their guard down.

What is Identity Theft?

Before we jump into how to protect, let’s define identity theft:

Identity theft occurs when an unauthorized person uses your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. Types of information usually of interest to identity thieves include your name, address, date of birth, social insurance number, credit card and bank account information, and your online passwords.

Once identity thieves have a strong combination of any of the above data points, they can get other missing information required to commit fraud. Usually, the information will be used to apply for credit, use your money (via bank account/credit card), or even use it to apply for a job or rent an apartment.

The worst part: if not prevented or caught on time, you may have to pay for what they borrowed or bought while pretending to be you. This is called identity fraud and it is very difficult to fix once committed on your behalf.

Preventative Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

Here are some preventative tactics on how to prevent identity theft:

  1. Protect your personal information. This is an obvious one, but it is a tough one to implement. The following are some great tactics:
    • Make sure to never carry your SIN card with you and limit the number of identification cards you carry with you; you do not need to carry all your credit and debit cards with you at all times. Nor do you need your birth certificate or passport day-to-day.
    • Always protect your PIN code from the view of others when you are paying with your cards, or use the tap feature if available.
    • Always shred bank statements or any other documents that contain your personal information, and destroy old credit/debit cards. If you receive pre-approved applications for new credit cards or loans, shred those as well if you don’t plan to use them.
    • Use different passwords for your credit/debit cards and use strong passwords with various characters and numbers. Most phones and internet browsers enable a user to save their passwords instead of manually typing them in each time, which can be helpful for choosing complex, hard-to-remember passwords.
    • Use different passwords for your apps and social media accounts. It is best to separate your social media and app email from your main personal email.
    • Do not keep PIN codes or passwords in your wallet or purse. If you would like to keep a physical record of your passwords, it’s best to keep that record locked in a safe place at home.
  2. View your credit report and score regularly. You can sign up for free credit report checks and it doesn’t hurt your credit score. This can be done with a national credit bureau like Equifax (details below). It’s best to check it monthly to identify any new and unfamiliar accounts or loans.
  3. Review your credit card and bank statements each month. If you see something that you do not recognize, reach out to the bank. You can also set alerts on your phone if you use mobile banking apps, that will alert you of any expenses charged to your cards.
  4. Be cautious with respect to sharing your personal information. Do not overshare. Only provide personal information if you have verified the contact and you are sure with whom you are dealing, including shopping websites. The rise of social media ads for goods and services makes it simple for someone to create a realistic-looking storefront to collect user data. Before entering your account information, make sure the site is legitimate, and has appropriate security and/or secure pay gateways. Look for a secure address has the “https” prefix and show a little lock sign right beside the prefix. When in doubt, do some research, read reviews, and if there are any red flags, do not provide your information.
  5. Do not overshare on social media about your whereabouts, vacations, or the location of family and friends.
  6. Do not download free movies/music/documents from the internet. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Hackers lure you in with free items that you may want in order to plant malware (malicious software) onto your device.
  7. Equip your computer with anti-virus software and use safe browsing features when available. Make sure to use an ad-blocker when browsing, this will prevent you from clicking on potentially dangerous and unverified links.

What to Do If You Suspect Identity Fraud

If you believe you may be a victim of identity fraud, you should consider taking the following action:

  1. Notify your bank and cancel your credit cards immediately.
  2. Contact the local police department where the theft occurred and file a report. Once this is filed, it will be very difficult for anybody to take out a loan or a credit card in your name.
  3. File a Fraud and Identity Theft Report with the two national credit bureaus in Canada: Equifax Canada (1-800-465-7166) and TransUnion Canada (1-877-525-3823). This will warn creditors to double-check with the right person before approving a new credit application.

Identity Theft Can Happen Quickly and Easily

Many people don’t realize just how easy it is to grant fraudsters access to their personal information. Here’s just one example of how this can happen:

Jane loves downloading free music from online websites, many of which allow users from across the globe to post files for peer-to-peer sharing with little oversight. She’s been downloading music and movies from the same website for over two years, and nothing has ever happened. However, this time it was different. After downloading the latest hit song, Jane continued to use her phone as she usually does; ordered rides via a ride-sharing app, checked her emails and used other password-protected apps, including mobile banking.

The next day, Jane noticed something strange: her ride-sharing app suddenly notified her that ‘the driver is on their way to her pick up’, but Jane had not ordered any rides – she wasn’t even using her phone at the time. Jane could not call the ride-sharing app as her account seemed to have been hacked, and instead called her bank to block her credit card. The bank advised her that the charge was made in pesos and that someone has been using the ride-sharing app to take rides around Mexico City.

Upon talking to a professional at her cell phone company, Jane was advised that her phone was “key logged” via a malicious bug that was planted in the downloaded song file. The hackers matched the password that Jane typed into her bank mobile app with the ride-sharing app username, which showed up on the screen when she was using the app previously. All of this very personal information was tracked using malicious software. Jane never recovered her ride-sharing app profile, although the bank did refund her money. Jane was lucky, but many more are not, and downloading files from a file sharign site is just one way to introduce this malicious software to your phone or computer. In other cases, it may be a text made to look like it’s from your bank, or an email that looks like a legitmate request to reset your password.

With this story, we leave you to think about your personal information and how it is stored. Spending a few extra minutes each day taking precautions is a small price to pay to keep your identity and assets safe.

Contact McCay Duff LLP in Ottawa for Experienced Financial Guidance

A skilled financial specialist can provide much-needed guidance and strategy to both businesses and individuals looking to avoid fraud and identity theft. If you would like to discuss business strategies to prevent fraud or look into our audit and assurance services for businesses to identify any internal red flags, we can help. We also provide advice and guidance to maximize financial health for individuals and families, including safeguarding against identity theft.

The financial team at McCay Duff LLP in Ottawa will review your particular circumstances and recommend a plan to maximize wealth both now and in the future. To learn more about how we can assist you, please contact us online or by telephone at 613-236-2367 or toll-free at 1-800-267-6551.