Of all the frauds and scams around, identity theft is probably one of the scariest. It’s sneaky and the consequences can be huge, not to mention that clearing the whole mess up can be Kafkaesque. How to prove that someone else assumes your identity? How to prove that you are not responsible for your fraudulent alter ego’s actions? The consequences of this crime can be felt for years.
Identity theft is the unauthorized collection and use of your personal information, usually for criminal purposes. Obtaining personal information is easier than it sound:
- Some criminals sift through trash to find discarded items such as credit card applications, bank statements or old IDs (a practice known as dumpster diving).
- Some advertise bogus job offers to collect resumes which typically disclose applicants’ names, home and email addresses, telephone numbers etc.
- Some steal personal information from computers using malware or spyware.
- Other simply “shoulder surf”, i.e. observe users typing their login credentials, credit/calling card numbers etc. in public places.
This BBC article explains the very common ways three people became victims of identity fraud. But some victims still don’t know how it happened to them, including Donald Fiedler. And identity theft even happens to police officers, as you can read in this article!
Key private personal identification documents in Canada include your passport, citizenship card or permanent resident card, SIN card, provincial health card, credit card and debit card. Minimize the risk of identity theft by giving out the minimum of personal information needed. For instance, prospective employers do not need to have your SIN number on file. You can give out this information once you are formally hired. This list of 10 ways to avoid being the victim of identity theft highlights good practices you should follow. You can also listen to this NPR Podcast on how to avoid identity theft.
The best way to illustrate how crazy identity theft can be for victims is to read testimonies. Read the story of these two B.C people who are fighting to get justice, how identity theft destroyed a victim’s life, or the detailed testimony of what Michelle Browne, a victim, went through with a description of the trail left by the fraudster. With their new identity (that is, your name), criminal can open bank accounts, apply for credit cards, get a mortgage etc.
If you were a victim of identity theft, do read this guide with instructions on the steps you need to take. The Identity Theft Resource Center also has interesting documents, including resources for consumers and a “scam alert” section.
Remember: prevention is key here. If you are a newcomer to Canada, familiarize yourself with your privacy rights and keep an eye open!