Identity Theft

What it is and what you can do about it 

Every year, thousands of people are victims of identity theft. 

While recent developments in telecommunications and computer processing make it easier for companies and consumers to reach each other, they can also scatter your personal information more widely, making life easier for criminals. 

Identity theft is the unauthorized collection and use of your personal information, usually for criminal purposes. 

Your name, date of birth, address, credit card, Social Insurance Number (SIN) and other personal identification numbers can be used to open credit card and bank accounts, redirect mail, establish cellular phone service, rent vehicles, equipment, or accommodation, and even secure employment. 

If this happens, you could be left with the bills, charges, bad cheques, and taxes.

 

How to fight identity theft

 

  • * Minimize the risk. Be careful about sharing personal information or letting it circulate freely. 

  • * When you are asked to provide personal information, ask how it will be used, why it is needed, who will be sharing it and how it will be safeguarded. 

  • * Give out no more than the minimum, and carry the least possible with you. 

  • * Be particularly careful about your SIN; it is an important key to your identity, especially in credit reports and computer databases. 

  • * Don't give your credit card number on the telephone, by electronic mail, or to a voice mailbox, unless you know the person with whom you're communicating or you initiated the communication yourself, and you know that the communication channel is secure. 

  • * Take advantage of technologies that enhance your security and privacy when you use the Internet, such as digital signatures, data encryption, and “anonymizing” services. 

  • * Pay attention to your billing cycle. If credit card or utility bills fail to arrive, contact the companies to ensure that they have not been illicitly redirected. 

  • * Notify creditors immediately if your identification or credit cards are lost or stolen. 

  • * Access your credit report from a credit reporting agency once a year to ensure it's accurate and doesn't include debts or activities you haven't authorized or incurred. 

  • * Ask that your accounts require passwords before any inquiries or changes can be made, whenever possible. 

  • * Choose difficult passwords – not your mother's maiden name. Memorise them, change them often. Don't write them down and leave them in your wallet, or some equally obvious place. 

  • * Key in personal identification numbers privately when you use direct purchase terminals, bank machines, or telephones. 

  • * Find out if your cardholder agreement offers protection from credit card fraud; you may be able to avoid taking on the identity thief's debts. 

  • * Be careful what you throw out. Burn or shred personal financial information such as statements, credit card offers, receipts, insurance forms, etc. Insist that businesses you deal with do the same.

 

Criminal Code Protection


Bill S-4 creates three new Criminal Code offences related to identity theft, including: 

 

  • * Obtaining and possessing identity information with the intent to use the information deceptively, dishonestly or fraudulently in the commission of a crime.

  • * Trafficking in identity information, an offence that targets those who transfer or sell information to another person with knowledge of, or recklessness as to, the possible criminal use of the information. 

  • * Unlawfully possessing or trafficking in government-issued identity documents that contain the information of another person. 


All three offences carry five-year maximum prison sentences. In addition, the legislation gives courts the power to order offenders to pay restitution to a victim of identity theft as part of their sentence. 

Identity theft costs Canadian consumers, banks and credit card firms, stores and other businesses an estimated $2 billion annually, according to the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus.