What thieves don't want you to know about Identity Theft
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According to the RCMP, identity fraud and credit card fraud are costing Canadians an average of $1 million every day. But there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of being a victim of this crime. Here's what the RCMP wants you to know — and the thieves don't — about keeping your identity out of criminal hands.
Identity fraud was once relatively rare; today, it’s big-time crime.
“According to PhoneBusters, identity fraud losses in 2006 totalled $16.4 million and involved 7,884 victims in Canada alone,” notes Inspector Barry Baxter, Officer in Charge, Counterfeit and Identity Fraud, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), RCMP Commercial Crime Branch.
“The Canadian Bankers Association reports that in 2006 credit card fraud accounted for $292 million in transactions; debit card fraud resulted in $94 million,” he continues. “On average, identity fraud and credit card fraud cost $1 million per day.”
While the numbers are staggering, you can take steps to protect your identity. Understanding the crime and how thieves operate is a good place to start.
“Identity theft is the process of obtaining another person’s personal data or financial information. It’s basically stealing,” says Inspector Baxter.
What thieves do with your data is known as identity fraud, Inspector Baxter explains, specifically,
“when an individual or individuals represent themselves fraudulently with that information in order to obtain goods or services.”
Four strategies identity thieves don’t want you to know about
1. Credit card skimming. “Besides stealing your card, credit card thieves can skim or lift the information contained on the magnetic strip found on the back of your credit card,” says the Inspector. “This is a high-volume activity and thieves can use that information to order goods and services.”
Expert tip: “Always keep your credit card in sight,” is the advice from Inspector Baxter. “You can’t be too careful. For example, if you’re paying for a restaurant meal with your credit card, accompany the wait staff as your card is swiped rather than let them walk away with it.”
2. Phishing. “Phishing is an email activity whereby identity thieves pretend to be your bank or financial institution and point you to a fraudulent website to complete an online form with your personal or financial information,” he says. These days, phishing scams look quite real and may include a URL, look and logo very similar to those used by your bank. Once you fill out the online form with your personal and financial information, you’ve given the thieves exactly what they want.
Expert tip: Never trust an email message that prompts you for personal or financial information — even if it looks like the real deal. Report the receipt of such email to your financial institution.
3. Malicious software or “malware.” “Cyber predators or hackers are known to create codes that infiltrate your computer,” says Inspector Baxter. Malicious software can be transmitted via viruses, worms, spyware, trojan horse programs and adware. By opening an email, accessing a website, or downloading games that are infected, your everyday computer activity (such as entering a password or your credit card information when making online purchases) can be intercepted.
Expert tip: “When making online purchases, make sure you’re familiar with the company and that the site is on a secure server — usually differentiated by ‘https’ (rather than ‘http’) in the URL,” he says. You should also keep your operating system and software up to date so that your computer is protected with the latest anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-adware programs and firewalls.
4. Dumpster diving. It’s not uncommon for identity thieves to go through garbage with the hope of finding an envelope or letter with your personal information. Thieves could even use your phone book, which may include the names, addresses and perhaps birth dates of your friends and family.
Expert tip: Don’t let personal information slip into your trash. Since even junk mail can include your personal information, Inspector Baxter stresses that everything with any personal information should be shredded before being thrown out or recycled.
Serious crimes require serious protection. Here are Inspector Baxter’s top three ways to protect your identity:
- Carry a “safe wallet.” “Only carry what you need for the day in your wallet or purse,” he advises. “Store the social insurance card, passport, birth certificate and credit cards you aren’t using in a safe place rather than carry them with you.”
- Safeguard your PIN. “Identity thieves are technology savvy and use pinhole or spy cameras to capture your PIN,” he warns. “Shield your PIN whenever you’re entering it. You can’t be too careful with this.” Also, never share your PIN with anyone.
- Check your credit profile. “Every six months or so, do a credit check on yourself,” he advises. You may be surprised to find that you’ve been a victim without knowing it. Also, check every entry on your credit card and bank statements and notify your bank immediately if something looks suspicious. Your credit history is available through Equifax Canada or TransUnion Canada.
Read the RCMP’s Scams and Fraud
guide for in-depth information on what you can do to thwart identity theft and fraud.
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