By Jeffrey Schwartz
March is Fraud Prevention Month, and the RCMP, Competition Bureau and Anti-Fraud Centre want to use this month to educate Canadians and raise awareness about common fraud trends and scams.
Every year, thousands of Canadians fall victim to identity theft and fraud. By using your name, date of birth, credit card, social insurance number and other personal information, savvy criminals can open credit card and bank accounts, redirect mail, establish cellphone services, rent vehicles and even secure employment.
In 2013, more than 46,500 Canadians were victims of identity theft and fraud (almost 10,000 more than in 2012), resulting in the loss of more than $63 million (Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.) In fact, fraud and ID theft are among the fastest growing crimes in Canada and the financial impact on individuals, families and businesses can be devastating.
Victims of identity fraud can experience financial loss and difficulty obtaining credit or restoring their good name – and many, have seen their retirement savings, homes and businesses lost to this preventable crime.
The good news is, by managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with awareness of the issue, Canadians can help guard themselves against identity theft and fraud. This is why it is so important for us all to protect our personal information:
• Erase all personal information before disposing or selling electronic equipment. This includes computers, cellphones, CDs, DVDs, diskettes and memory sticks.
• Shred or destroy pre-approved credit card applications, credit card receipts, bills and related information when you no longer need them.
• Never send confidential personal or financial information by email.
• Ask yourself if you really need all the personal identity documents you keep in your wallet or purse. Remove those you don’t need and keep them in a secure place instead.
• Periodically check your credit reports, bank and credit card statements and report any irregularities to your financial institutions and the credit bureaus.
• During debit or credit transactions, swipe the card yourself rather than allowing the cashier to do it for you.
• Memorize all the personal identification numbers for your payment cards. Never write them on the cards.
• Never use a public access computer or wireless network when banking or shopping online.
• Avoid mail or telephone solicitations disguised as promotions or surveys offering instant prizes or awards. These scams are designed for the purpose of obtaining your personal details including credit card numbers.
• Don’t reply to spam emails, even to unsubscribe, and do not click on any links listed in a spam email. Many of these are phishing scams designed to access the personal information stored on your computer.
If you do become victim of identity theft and fraud, it is important to take these steps right away:
• File a police report.
• Notify the credit bureaus.
• Contact your bank and credit card companies.
• Review your credit reports, and contact all unknown creditors listed under new accounts or inquires.
• Check with Canada Post to see if a change of address has been filed in your name.
• Alert Canada Post to make sure no one orders a passport with your information.
There are countless ways criminals can try to obtain your personal information. The more you know about fraud related crime, the less likely you are to be fooled.
Jeffrey Schwartz is the executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada and president of the Credit Association of Greater Toronto. Consolidated Credit is a national non-profit credit counselling organization that teaches consumers about personal finance. Visit www.consolidatedcredit.ca for more information on credit counseling, debt management and budgeting.