Almost one-quarter of Canadian adults (24%) have been touched by identity theft. In 2005 alone, there were more than 11,000 reported victims representing millions of dollars in losses. Not surprisingly, 71% express concern that their identity may be stolen and used for fraudulent means.
— Ipsos-Reid Survey, March 7, 2006
Despite our best efforts, a determined thief may still succeed in stealing our personal information and then our identity. Therefore, it makes sense to protect yourself from this very real possibility by obtaining identity theft insurance.
This peace-of-mind can cost less than 10 cents a day for $15,000 of coverage.
Just How Do Thieves Steal My Identity?
Identity thieves first look for the obvious—your name, address, telephone number. Then they begin gathering your social insurance number, drivers license number, credit card and banking information, bank cards, birth certificate and passports—all of which are critical pieces of personal information. In some cases, they only need a couple of pieces of information to begin accessing your bank account or to use your credit or debit card.
How do they get access this information?
Identity thieves may be very bold and steal the information right from your mailbox or from your purse or wallet. (Surprisingly, a recent survey in the United States found that 16% of those surveyed said that it was a friend, relative or co-worker who stole their identity.)
In other cases, they obtain your information from an internet transaction. Or, they “dumpster-dive” to retrieve discarded statements, credit card offers, etc. Some will eavesdrop on your conversation while you give personal information over the telephone, or sneakily peak over your shoulder while you are at the ATM machine. Some people have had critical pieces of information stolen by thieves who broken into their home.
Telltale Signs Your Identity Has Been Stolen
- Look for unexplained charges or withdrawals from your bank or other financial accounts.
- Regular bills or other mail is not delivered; may mean an identity thief changed your address.
- Credit cards arrive in your mail that you didn’t apply for.
- Your credit is denied without valid reasons.
- Debt collectors or companies call you about merchandise or services you didn’t buy.
How Do I Minimize The Risk Of Identity Theft?
To avoid becoming a target for identity theft, develop these habits:
- Review your credit card and bank statements regularly and thoroughly for any suspicious activity.
- Regularly review your credit reports; even as often as quarterly. There are credit sites that offer this service without charge.
- Do not respond to unsolicited e-mails or phone calls asking for your social insurance number, billing information, login or any other personal information.
- If you suspect any suspicious activity regarding your personal financial information, immediately report it to the appropriate bank, credit card company, credit bureau, law enforcement and PhoneBusters. If it truly is a case of identity theft, the sooner you report it the less damage there will be to your finances and credit rating.
- Keep, in a safe place, a list of your cards, account numbers, expiration dates and toll-free customer service numbers. Photocopy both sides of your cards, driver’s licence, etc. This will save you considerable time should you need to contact the credit card company or other financial institutions.
- Keep your computer’s virus detection software current. Install and keep current your spyware software program. Use and become familiar with the security features of your web browser; ideally it should encrypt or scramble information you send over the Internet.
- Avoid using automatic log-in features either on your computer or on websites that save your user name and password; and always log off when you are finished. If you lose your computer or it’s stolen, it will be more difficult for that person to access your personal information.
- Be extra careful about guarding your personal information when using the online services of internet cafes or when connecting to public wireless access points.
- Buy a paper shredder. Shred all documentation that identifies your personal information; particularly letters and offers from credit card companies that you do not plan to apply for.
- Credit card or other payments should always be made at a financial institution or dropped into a locked or secure mailbox.
- Print your initials and last name on your personal cheques, rather than your full first name. If someone steals your chequebook, they will not know if you sign your cheques with your initials or your first name, but your bank knows how you sign your cheques.
- Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Rather, put “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.”
- When you write cheques to pay for your credit card accounts, do not complete the credit card number on the “For” line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your cheque won’t have access to the full number.
Get Protected By Park Insurance
Despite these best efforts, a determined thief may still succeed in stealing your personal information and then your identity. Therefore, it makes sense to protect yourself from this very real possibility by buying identity theft insurance. It is less costly than you think, particularly when bundled with your home, condo, or tenant insurance. Here are some coverages that may be included in your protection plan:
- Credit card forgery (excess of coverage under your credit card and excess of coverage under your home insurance policy)
- Fraudulent transfer or removal of funds from Internet-accessed bank accounts
- Long distance telephone expenses, notary fees, registered mail costs incurred to resolve credit issues
- Costs incurred due to the fraudulent application for credit in your name
- Legal costs incurred in your defence from lawsuits brought against you by merchants or collection agencies
- Legal costs incurred in the processes involved in restoring your credit history
- Lost wages resulting from time required away from your employment in dealing with matters pertaining to an identity theft.
What Do I Do If My Identity Is Stolen?
Clearing your name and restoring your credit rating can be quite expensive and always takes a significant amount of your time. For some it may cost as much as $2000 or more and up to 200 hours of your personal time. If you suspect any suspicious activity regarding your personal financial information:
- Immediately report it to the appropriate bank, credit card Company and PhoneBusters. If it truly is a case of identity theft, the sooner you report it the less damage there will be to your finances and credit rating.
- Immediately file a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Keep a copy in case your creditors need proof of the crime.
- Contact the two major credit bureaus and ask them to flag your file with a fraud alert including a statement that creditors should get your permission before opening any new accounts in your name. Also ask them for copies of your credit reports. Review these carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts. In a few months, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections and changes, and to make sure no additional fraudulent activity has occurred.
- Contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Send a letter that outlines the problem and to confirm your conversation.