As Ottawans move their lives increasingly online, like the rest of the world, identity theft is becoming more common.
This is where your personal information is used without your knowledge or consent – often from techniques like phishing (pretending to be someone you know).
Many people are unaware that it has happened until it is brought to their attention with unexplained financial activity, such as a credit card transaction that they don’t recognize.
Whether or not someone takes money or something else from you, identity theft is a crime and there are actions you can take to stop it and have the alleged perpetrator prosecuted.
What type of information are identity thieves looking for?
Identity thieves are looking for an array of personal information that can help them access accounts and resources in your name.
- Online user names and passwords
- Name, address and telephone numbers
- Date of birth
- Credit card numbers
- Bank account details
- PIN numbers
- Birth certificate details
- Passport number
- Driver’s licence
- Social Insurance Number (SIN)
What should I do if I am a victim of identity theft in Ontario?
If you are a victim of identity theft in Ottawa, there are several sensible steps to take:
- Firstly, be sure of what, if anything, has been lost or stolen – such as credit card transactions, bank withdrawals, ID cards, etc.
- Report it to the appropriate institution – bank, credit card company, government agency, etc. and make sure that the appropriate cards, passport, etc. are cancelled, new ones issued, and you set up new PINs, etc.
- The institution may report it to the police but you should also make a report of your identity theft to law enforcement; ask for a copy of the police report and provide a copy for any institution that might require it as proof.
- Report your identity theft to the Canadian Ant-Fraud Centre (CAFC), which gathers information about identity theft and provides assistance to victims.
- Get a copy of your credit report from Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada (the two main credit reporting agencies in Canada) and notify creditors of any suspicious activity such as accounts that you did not open. Also, have your account flagged with a “fraud warning” that will instruct creditors to contact you if any accounts are opened in your name.
- Keep a record of your communications about the identity theft.
What can my information be used for if I am the victim of identity theft?
Your identity is your passport to many key resources.
Once someone takes your identity, they can use it to access any online or offline accounts that require no photo ID. For instance, they can:
- Access funds in your existing bank accounts to withdraw or transfer
- Open new bank accounts in your name
- Make online purchases
- Apply for loans or credit cards
- Apply for social benefits
- Rent accommodation
- Divert your mail to their address
- Change passwords, contact information etc. on your private accounts
- Establish utility services such as water, internet, etc.
How can I leave myself susceptible to identity theft?
Everybody should be proactive in helping to prevent identity theft. This means taking precautions against it.
Risky activities include the following:
- Having easily guessable online passwords that you never change
- Posting personal information (like birthdays, mailing addresses, phone numbers, etc.) on social media sites
- Not updating your anti-virus software regularly or disabling it
- Sending financial information about yourself through insecure messaging apps or by email
- Making payments online without checking security certificates
- Not having good spam filters on your email
Of course, you can also leave yourself susceptible to identity theft offline as well as online by:
- Leaving personal information, like credit card statements, etc. lying around on your desk at work
- Giving out personal information over the phone
- Not emptying your mailbox at home or suspending mail delivery when you’re on vacation
- Not reviewing financial statements carefully and regularly
- Not following up on calls you receive saying that you have been approved for accounts you never applied for
Do you need a lawyer for identity theft?
If you have a problem with identity theft where somebody steals money from your account or uses your credit card, the financial institution generally covers you for the losses without the need for a lawyer.
However, identity theft is a broad subject and fraudsters are ever-more clever in finding ways to rob your identity from you.
You may require a lawyer experienced in identity theft to help you track down the perpetrator and put a stop to it, particularly if you are not aware of the theft for some time.
Sometimes, organizations are reluctant to take the action you request to protect your identity. You may have trouble reaching the right people in large organizations and may be asked to deal with customer service people with little experience in fraud.
A letter from your lawyer can request sensitive information and help you pressurize them into taking the required action by stating your fraud protection rights.
If you suspect that you have been a victim of identity theft and require legal assistance, contact one of our lawyers for a free consultation.