Are You a Victim of Identity Theft?
There is a moment of fear when you look at your bank account and see transactions that you don’t remember, or you notice that your credit card balance is higher than it should be. There is every possibility that you did actually forget something that you purchased, but there is also the much more disturbing possibility that someone else has access to your accounts and personal information.
It is a common enough plot in movies and TV shows; someone has had their identity stolen completely unbeknownst to them. It is only when their bank account has run dry and their credit is refused that they discover something has gone wrong. As the world becomes more and more connected, it is becoming increasingly important that you know how to tell if you’re the victim of identity theft.
What is Identity Theft?
While it is not quite what Hollywood likes to portray, real life identity theft is no less serious. A simple way of describing it is the act of acquiring someone else’s personal information for criminal purposes, such as identity fraud. Identity fraud, in turn, is the act of using the stolen information to commit other types of fraud, such as misuse of credit card data or the actual impersonation of another person. This type of fraud results in the loss of millions of dollars every year for victims.
Identity theft can be accomplished in a number of ways. Low-tech means, such as dumpster diving, can be quite effective, but the greater danger comes through technology. The internet, in particular, allows for elaborate schemes, such as hacking, phishing, and skimming. Spyware and viruses designed to help thieves gain access to a victim’s private information are coming into wider use.
What Information are Thieves Looking For?
Identity thieves are looking for access to any your personal information. Specifically, they may be looking for any of the following:
- Date of birth
- Full name and address
- Social Insurance numbers
- Your username and password for online services
- Your mother’s maiden name
- Driver’s license number
- Bank account numbers
- Credit card information, such as expiry date and the 3-digit code on the signature panel
- Your signature
- Your passport number
Any of these can be useful to identity thieves who can use this information to access your bank accounts, transfer bank balances, open new accounts, apply for loans under your name, make purchases, or obtain passports.
Your identity may be used to hide other criminal activities as well. Using identity theft to fund terrorist activities is a growing concern.
Signs of Potential Identity Theft
There are several warning signs that your personal information may have been stolen. Being aware of them and monitoring your accounts can help protect you. Some of the signs to watch for include:
- Having your cheques refused
- Calls from debt collectors about debts that are not familiar to you
- Unfamiliar charges on your credit cards
- Expected bills and other mail does not arrive
- Not receiving coverage on a health plan because records show a condition you don’t have
- Being refused coverage on a health plan because you have reached the limits of your benefits
- Notification that more than one tax return has been filed under your name
If you suspect that you are the victim of identity theft, report it immediately. Contact your local police to file a report and inform your credit card companies. You can also place a fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting the national credit bureaus, and should always report the identity theft to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Identity theft is serious business and a growing concern as disparate parts of our lives become interconnected. Be aware of anything out of the ordinary and be sure to act if you suspect that your personal information has been compromised.
For protection from identity theft, contact Safe Harbour today!