March is Fraud Protection Month, which is meant to educate consumers about how to recognize and prevent fraud and identity theft. According to the Government of Canada’s Competition Bureau, thousands of Canadians are defrauded every year. There is no typical fraud victim; people from all walks of life are targeted.
Identity theft is on the rise thanks to the population’s increased Internet use, which allows scammers easier access to acquire personal information through phishing, hacking, spyware and viruses. In 2010, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received identity fraud reports from 18,146 Canadian victims, totaling a loss of more than $9.4 million dollars. Even more cases go unreported; the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates that less than 5% of the total number of victims report their experiences to law enforcement agencies.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled some tips on how to protect your personal and business information from fraud and identity theft:
- Lock your mailbox. Unattended residential mailboxes are an open invitation to mail thieves. With stolen mail, identity thieves can learn a lot about your personal data, such as your address, bank, family names, and sometimes even your social insurance. All this information can then be used to set up fraudulent credit card and bank accounts, redirect mail, establish cell phone service, rent vehicles, equipment, or accommodation, and even secure employment. If your residential mailbox does not lock, consider renting a mailbox in a secure location. This is especially important in order to keep items such as new cheques, passports and Revenue Canada information away from potential thieves.
- Take Receipts. When you visit a retail store, bank machine, gasoline pump or any place where a receipt or confirmation notice is issued, be sure to never leave receipts behind.
- Shred Personal Information. Don’t let dumpster divers get access your information. Burn or shred financial information such as statements, credit card offers, pre-approved credit card applications, credit card receipts, and insurance forms.
- Protect Your Computer. Install anti-virus software, guard your usernames and logins (or use a secure program like LastPass), don’t click any links in suspicious emails, and only shop online from reputable merchants with secure transaction systems.
- Don’t Leave Personal Information Unattended. When you are out in public, be sure to hold onto your purse or wallet or ensure that it is in a secure place.
- Protect Your Pin. When choosing a PIN, stay away from easily identifiable ones like birthdays or phone numbers. Cover the keypad when at ATM or debit machines and never write PINs down or share them with others. If possible, swipe your card yourself instead of allowing a cashier to do it for you.
- Check Your Statements. Periodically check your credit cards and bank statements and report any irregularities to your financial institution.
- Protect Your Bank Information. Your bank or credit card company should never ask you to respond via e-mail to any requests for personal information, PINs or passwords. If you are unsure if a request is legitimate, call the financial institution to check before divulging any information.
- Research Charities. Before donating, visit the Canadian Revenue Agency’s Charity Listing to determine if a charity is registered and therefore eligible to issue official donation receipts, as well as to get information on the way the charity operates.
- Avoid Telemarketing Scams. According to the federal government, telemarketing fraud costs Canadians more than $100 million every year. When in doubt, never provide personal or financial information over the phone. Be wary of contests or prizes that require you to send money before claiming your reward.
- Guard your SIN. Be particularly careful about who you disclose your Social Insurance Number to, as it is an important key to your identity.
- Be Skeptical. If you are notified about winning a contest you don’t remember entering, do not divulge personal information.
- Recognize Scams. Visit the Competition Bureau’s website and the RCMP’s website for updated lists of common scams.
- Report It. If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, immediately report it to your local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
While instances of identity theft have increased, you don’t have to be a victim. Be diligent, know what to look for, and stay one step ahead of scammers.