Imagine: you’re scanning through your credit card statement, and suddenly come across a string of unusual charges. Next comes an alert that a line of credit has been opened in your name. Your mind begins to race as you wonder whether you’ve become a victim of identity fraud.
In today’s digital age, this scenario is a real possibility for anyone. But there is good news: You can take steps to protect your personal data. Here’s what you need to know.
What is identity theft?
First of all: what is identity theft? It occurs when someone uses your personal or financial information to commit fraud, typically for their own financial gain. Criminals can steal your information through data breaches, malware, phishing, social engineering or social media oversharing.
Why it matters
If someone else gets ahold of your personal information, they can use it in malicious ways. They may purchase expensive items using your credit card or open a new bank account — to name a couple of examples. Along with negatively impacting your finances, identity theft can do serious harm to your credit rating.
Tips to avoid ID theft
Identity theft is a big issue — which is why it’s so important to be aware of the steps you can take to mitigate your risk. Here are eight simple ways to safeguard your personal information.
- Only carry what you need. Avoid having extra credit cards, your social insurance number, birth certificate or passport with you. The same goes for confidential documents like tax returns. These are best kept in a secure space, ideally a locked fireproof safe.
- Lost something? Act fast. Always report lost or stolen wallets or IDs right away to your financial institution, local police and credit bureaus.
- Be vigilant on social. Social media accounts are treasure troves for thieves looking to uncover personal information. So, along with checking your security preferences, it’s wise to limit what you share on these platforms. This includes details such as birthdays, children and pet names, and home and email addresses.
- Monitor your credit. Monitor your credit to catch the first signs of unusual activity. You can get yearly free credit reports from major credit agencies, including Equifax Canada or TransUnion Canada. Even better: use a credit monitoring service that alerts you right away if there’s a sudden shift in your score.
- Stay on top of your bills and mail. Carefully review your bills and financial statements to ensure there isn’t any suspicious activity — and sign up in online banking for transaction alerts for good measure. Check your mail daily and call the sender if it doesn’t arrive on time. If you’re heading out of town, consider asking someone you trust to collect your mail or use a hold mail service.
- Shred it. One way that criminals steal information is by sifting through garbage or recycling bins. So, it’s wise to invest in a cross-cutting shredder. You’ll want to destroy any personal and confidential information you no longer need, like financial statements, insurance forms and cheques.
- Be smart about the web. Thieves have scores of ways to access your information in today’s online world. To reduce your risk, only provide personal information to organizations you know and trust. Don’t click on links or open attachments you aren’t expecting. Avoid making sensitive transactions while connected to public Wi-Fi (or connect with a virtual private network if you need to). And keep your antivirus software up to date.
- Be a password pro. Always follow best practices for secure passwords. In a nutshell, this means using different passwords for your accounts. They should be complex, as well — at least 12 characters, a mix of upper and lowercase letters, as well as symbols and numbers. Try not to use personal information (like your mother’s maiden name) in your password. A password manager is a handy tool to help you keep track of them. As an added layer of protection, turn on two-step verification when ever possible.
The final takeaway
While there’s no sure-fire way to protect yourself from identity theft, there are steps you can take to dramatically reduce the likelihood of it. While seemingly small, taken together these actions can play a profound role in thwarting identity thieves.
Visit our security page for more information. If you suspect that you have been a victim of fraud where it relates to your account(s), please call our Member Advice Centre or visit your branch right away.