With only a few pieces of sensitive information, such as a name, social insurance number (SIN) and birth date, a criminal can steal an unsuspecting victim’s identity and cause them months or even years of legal and financial struggles.
Protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming victims or fraud with these seven tips to prevent identity theft:
1. Protect your personal information
One of the most important things you can do to help protect yourself from the threat of identity theft is to protect your sensitive personal information at all times. Consider purchasing a safe for your home and keeping all of your most important personal information there, including your social insurance number, passport, and birth certificate.
In fact, protecting your Social Insurance Number is extra important – avoid carrying your SIN card in your wallet. Instead, try to memorize the number in case you need it, and keep the card in your safe with your other important documents.
2. Make use of your shredder
A dedicated identity thief will go as far as looking through trash and dumpsters to find unsuspecting victims’ personal information. Make sure your discarded mail isn’t putting you at risk – put your shredder to good use by shredding documents containing your name, address, bank account information and other sensitive information. Purchase a shredder at your local office supplies store and make a habit of shredding any mail, receipts and credit card statements that contain your personal info.
3. Check your credit rating
It’s wise to check your credit rating at least once a year to ensure that it’s accurate. Take advantage of free credit report websites such as Credit Karma to monitor your credit score. You can also get a copy of your credit report from Canada’s two national credit bureaus, Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada.
4. Choose strong passwords
Secure your bank account and other important online accounts by choosing strong passwords which would be difficult for a would-be identify theft to guess. Make sure your passwords are impersonal and don’t contain any names or dates, like your birth date or your mother’s maiden name. Choose different passwords for each account, and make sure they contain a mixture of numbers, letters, and special characters.
5. Monitor your statements
Monitoring your bank and credit card statements is helpful not only when budgeting, it’s also an important part of preventing identity theft. Make a habit of reviewing each bank and credit card statement when it comes out. Look through and review each charge, making sure they are all accurate. If you notice any discrepancies, contact your banking institution as soon as possible.
6. Be cautious when shopping
When shopping, only carry the credit cards and personal information that you need during your shopping trip. When you’re out and about in crowded malls, try to protect your wallet and purse. Opt for purses and wallets that close or zip shut, rather than ones that others could easily reach into. Keep them close to your body, especially in busy shopping malls. Keep your debit and credit cards in your wallet whenever you’re not using them – try not to put them in your pocket, even for a minute!
Avoid leaving your purse or wallet in the car; if you must leave them behind, don’t put them in an exposed spot where they are visible to passers-by.
What’s more, when shopping, make sure to protect your banking and credit card details – never tell anyone your credit card or bank PIN. Avoid using banking machines or ATMs in isolated or dimly lit areas, and be sure to shield your PIN as you use the machine.
7. Beware of phishing emails
We’ve all probably received them – those suspicious emails that ask us to confirm our account information or passwords, when they just don’t look like they’re coming from a credible source. Trust your instinct when it comes to emails, phone calls, and mail that asks you for personal information. If it seems like a scam, it may very well be!
What to do if you suspect identity fraud
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, call your local police force and file a report with them. Then, contact your credit card company and your bank or financial institution, and they will take you through next steps. You can also call Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada to alert them of the situation, and to place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
If you suspect you’ve been targeted by an identity thief, there’s no reason to be embarrassed. Report your incident Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, and remember, you’re not alone!