Maybe you never opened that account, or ordered an additional credit card, but someone else did… someone who used your name and personal information to commit fraud. When an imposter uses your name, Social Insurance Number (SIN), credit card number, or some other piece of your personal information for their use – in short when someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge – it’s a crime pure and simple.
If you think it can’t happen to you just Cpl.Louis Robertson of the RCMP’s anti-fraud call centre. In 2009 Cpl. Robertson noticed a strange charge on his AmEx statement originating in Ottawa when he was in Washington. The man who knows more about identity theft than almost anyone in Canada has never found out who got his credit card number or how.
“Identity theft is presently the fastest growing criminal market because there is no risk, and that’s the beauty of it – if you’re smart you will disappear”, he says. Identity theft has become so common that it is called “Traditional Identity Theft” to differentiate it from an even more damaging variation that has also grown significantly in the past few years: “Fictitious Identity Theft”. In this scenario, a criminal uses a real piece of I.D. as a basis to create an entirely fake person who will then apply for all credit cards and bank loans that a real person could. At the end of the scam the person takes the money and runs, and there is nobody to chase. Equifax estimates the average loss per fictitious identity theft is approximately $250,000!
For Cpl.Robertson, the biggest concern isn’t the size of the industry, but rather the speed with which someone’s identity can be stolen and exploited. “Your personal identity can easily be sent to a black market in Bulgaria, and that’s it”, he said. “It’s all about the speed”
Are You a Victim?
- A creditor informs you that an application for credit was received with your name and address, for which you didn’t apply.
- Telephone calls or letters state that you have been approved or denied by a creditor to where you never applied.
- You receive credit card statements or other bills in your name, for which you didn’t apply.
- You no longer receive credit card statements or you notice that not all mail is delivered.
- A collection agency informs you that they are collecting for a defaulted account established with your identity and you never opened the account.
Identity Theft Statement – What is It?
If you have been a victim of identity theft, The “Identity Theft Statement” helps you notify financial institutions, credit card issuers, and other companies that an identity theft has occurred. Make as many copies that you will need in order to notify all affected companies.
If you suspect that your personal information has been compromised and misappropriated to commit fraud or theft, take action immediately and keep a record of your conversations and correspondence. The following basic action is appropriate in almost every case:
- Start a log of dates, person(s) that you spoke with and what they said.
- Contact the fraud departments of each of the two credit bureaus; request that a “Fraud Alert” be placed on you files and at the same time order copies of your credit reports.
- Equifax: (866) 828-5961
- TransUnion: (800) 663-9980
Identity Theft Statistics
- Victims spend an average of 600 hours recovering from identity theft, often over a period of years. Three years ago the average was 175 hours representing an increase of 240%!
- The cost of 600 hours equals nearly $16,000.00 of lost potential or realized income.
- While victims are finding out about the crime more quickly, it’s taking much longer than ever before to clear their records and recover from the situation.
- Even after the thieves stop using the information, victims struggle with the impact. This includes increased insurance and credit card fees, inability to secure employment, battling credit collection agencies and issuers ho refuse to clear records despite substantiating evidence of the crime against them. This may continue for more than 10 years after the crime was first discovered.
- Approximately 85% of victims found out the crime due to an adverse situation, denied credit or employment, notification by police or collection agencies, and receipt of credit card bills. Only 15% found out through a business group that verified a submitted application or a reported change of address.
- The emotional impact is likened to that of a more serious or violent crime againt the victim.
Tips that will help minimize your risk
- Before you reveal any personal identifying information, find out how it will be use and if it will be shared.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if bills don’t arrive.
- Utilize passwords on your credit cards, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SIN or your phone number.
- Minimize the identification information and number of cards you carry.
- Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, over the internet unless you have initiated the contact or know with whom you are dealing.
- Keep items with personal information in a safe place. An identity thief will pick through your garbage and recycling bins. Be sure to tear or shred receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, and credit offers you receive in the mail.
- Give your SIN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers whenever possible.
- Don’t carry your SIN card; leave it in a secure place.
If you suspect that you have been a victim of identity theft contact the fraud departments of creditors for any accounts that may have been opened fraudulently. File a report with the local police or the police in the community when the identity theft took place.
Contact the “Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC). The CAFC is currently the central sourcing of all pertinent information on Identity Theft to identify trends and patterns, information and is also used to assist law enforcement agencies during their investigations.