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  • Recognizing, Preventing, and Remediating Identity Theft

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It can happen to you, at any time for any reason, and you may not know what’s happened until it’s too late. In an world interconnected through information, technology, and capital – identity theft may be one of the worst things that can happen to you. You can be left penniless, with your ability to buy a home or even take out a credit card application be completely barred to you. With over 11,000 cases of identity theft in 2009, the “crime of the information” is poised to scam more and more people caught unaware.

How To Recognize That Identity Theft May Have Occurred

The most damaging aspect of identity theft scams is that they can pass by our normal filters for warning signs and do damage for long periods of time without us knowing. There’s a few warning signs that you can recognize which can tip off that your identity may be compromised:

  • Your credit card bill has strange and unexplainable purchases: Even if these are as low as a dollar, always be suspicious of any charge to your card that you don’t recognize. Scammers like to make “test” purchases to see how likely you are to react.
  • You’re getting statements for cards you never signed up for: No matter what, a card you didn’t sign up for should not be billing you. This also applies to receiving credit cards in the mail that you’ve never signed up for.
  • You’re being called by collections for debts you don’t owe: By now, you’ve been targeted by an identity scam for quite some time. For many, this may be the wake-up call that something is seriously wrong.
  • You’ve been denied a credit application with good credit: Whether it’s for a home, a phone plan, or a new credit card, if you’re being denied access to credit without having a history of bad credit, you need to check all the facts.
  • Your mail or email for bills/statements is not arriving: If your regular bills stop being regular, it’s possible a scammer has rerouted your mail/email address to obtain information from you.

Even small charges or minor errors in information can be a warning sign. In an age where information is freely exchanged and brokered by criminals with no limits or barriers: you can never be too paranoid. Following up on every discrepancy is crucial in avoiding a life-changing disaster.

Arming Yourself with the Right Tools to Fight Identity Scams

If you suspect that you’ve been the victim of an identity theft scam, remember that expediency is everything. The quicker you act, the quicker you can reverse the damage. Follow these guidelines to help get the right tools on your side:

  • Call all your credit card companies and have them immediately cancel all your cards.
  • Contact Canada’s credit reporting bureaus: TransUnion Canada and Equifax Canada. You are entitled to a free credit report from both bureaus once per year. Discuss with the representatives if you have grounds to place a fraud alert in your file.
  • If you’re reasonably sure an identity theft scam has occurred, you need to contact the police right away. Failing to notify the authorities could leave you liable for any damages the scam could incur. Make sure you take note of the report number for follow-up.
  • Contact the companies that are managing the bills or statements that have been affected by this fraud. Discuss with them if they are able to cancel the offending accounts, and press them to investigate the matter.
  • You may have to replace your driver’s license, Ontario Health Card, and possibly even your SIN. You may do so by calling 1-800-O-CANADA.

Preventing Future Identity Theft

While information can be difficult to keep a stopper on, there’s a number of precautions you can take to prevent any future identity theft from taking place. Some of these tips are basic common sense, and yet there ones that not enough people practice in their day to day lives.

  • Always save records of your credit reports, bills, and statements to keep a “timeline” of your credit.
  • Never share personal details or credit info online unless it’s a trusted source.
  • Do not open unsolicited emails due to the risk of a virus.
  • Keep as few documents with you as needed. Leave sensitive information such as your SIN and birth certificate at home if you don’t need it.

All in all, identity theft is a real problem that will only grow in prevalence. It’s up to us as consumers to take the right steps to protect our identity in the face of scammers more and more equipped to invade our lives and take from us one of our most important values: who we are.

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