Having your identity stolen can be frightening. Our tips will help you protect yourself and avoid becoming a victim.

The RCMP defines identity theft as the preparatory stage of acquiring and collecting someone else’s personal information for criminal purposes. Identity fraud is the actual deceptive use of the identity information of another person (living or dead) in connection with various frauds (including for example personating another person and the misuse of debit card or credit card data).

Identity scams have been a problem for decades, and with the power of the internet they have become even more common and elaborate. Criminals are most likely to strike when you least expect it, and you may not even know you’re a victim. We’ll look at the warning signs and prevention techniques offered by Canadian government bodies and other financial publications.

Key Identity Documents

Identity thieves are looking for personal information and documents. According to the RCMP, those key pieces are:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Social Insurance Numbers
  • Full address
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Username and password for online services
  • Driver’s license number
  • Personal identification numbers (PIN)
  • Credit card information (numbers, expiry dates and the last three digits printed on the signature panel)
  • Bank account numbers
  • Signature
  • Passport number

For a full list of personal identity documents, visit the new legislation on identity theft page from the Parliament of Canada.

Protecting Yourself

Although it can be difficult in a digital age to keep your key identity documents and information private, there are several ways you can protect yourself. The following tips are recommended by Forbes and TransUnion Canada.

  • Avoid carrying key identity documents in your wallet or purse if you don’t need them immediately. The less you carry, the less thieves have to work with if your lost personal belongings end up in the wrong hands.
  • If you don’t have a lock on your mailbox, consider having one installed to reduce the possibility of mail theft.
  • Stay away from hotspots and public Wi-Fi if you can. These services are often insecure and have minimal security features to protect your passwords and online activity. A private cellular data plan is a considerably safer option.
  • Check your credit report frequently for suspicious activity and contact the creditor in question immediately if you suspect any unauthorized activity.
  • Choose your passwords carefully and opt for two-factor authentication when possible. This will use a finger print scan or text messaged code to verify your identity when accessing personal information online.

Red flags

The sooner you see the warning signs of identity fraud, the better your chances will be of preventing damage to your credit score. TransUnion Canada has compiled a list of red flags to watch for.

  • One of your creditors informs you that they have received an application for credit with your name and Social Insurance Number.
  • You receive calls or letters stating that you have been approved or denied by a creditor to which you never applied.
  • You receive credit card, utility or telephone statements in your name and address for which you never applied.
  • You no longer receive your credit card statements, or you notice that not all of your mail is being delivered to you.
  • Your credit card statement includes purchases that you don’t recognize.
  • A collection agency tells you they are collecting for a defaulted account established with your identity, but you never opened the account.

If you think you might be a victim of identity theft or fraud, contact your local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre immediately.