Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Spring 2009 CSANews Issue 70  |  Posted date : Apr 30, 2009.Back to list

Protect yourself from identity theft

There's been a lot of talk over the past several years about identity theft: a kind of fraud in which a crook uses your identity to steal money or receive other benefits that normally belong to you.

For the person whose identity is stolen, identity theft can cause a number of personal and financial hassles that can be difficult to resolve.

Choose not to be a victim. The best way to ensure that identity theft doesn't affect you is to take some simple, common-sense steps to protect yourself. Here are some ideas:

Don't give out personal information over the phone

First things first: unless you initiate the call, never give out your credit card number, your social insurance or social security number or any other personal information over the phone. Banks, governments and other legitimate businesses never ask for such information over the phone, so if someone asks, chances are good that their motives are less than pure.

Don't fall for "phishers"

"Phishing" is what scammers do when they ask for personal information in an e-mail. Some of these "phishers" can be quite sophisticated, using fake logos and look-alike websites to convince you that they represent a legitimate company and to encourage you to supply them with passwords and other personal information. A good anti-spam software program offers excellent protection from this kind of identity crook.

Use common sense when using a bank machine

When you use an ATM, make sure to enter your PIN privately; use your hand to cover part of the keypad. Always take your transaction slip with you – it often has at least a portion of your account number printed on it. While the vast majority of ATMs are perfectly legitimate, non-bank ATMs in gas stations, convenience stores and other locations have occasionally been used to scan access codes and passwords from unsuspecting customers. Stick to ATMs from reputable banks, just to be sure.

Protect your passwords

Try to stay away from obvious passwords –your child's or pet's name, your birth date, your address, etc. – a lucky guess is all it takes for a thief to gain access. If you must write passwords down, don't keep them in an obvious place where someone could read it (on your fridge, for example). And, of course, don't tell your passwords to anyone.

Be careful about what you throw away

You might not know it, but your trash is a treasure trove of information for identity thieves. Get into the habit of shredding important financial information, such as credit card bills and bank statements, before you throw them away. A simple cross-cut paper shredder costs less than $50, but the peace of mind is priceless.

Look forward to your bills

Nobody looks forward to receiving bills. But the alternative could be worse. By redirecting your mail, a crook could gain access to a host of personal and financial information about you. The best way to protect yourself is to simply be aware of your billing cycle. If your monthly utility bill, credit card bill, pension cheque, or other financial documents don't arrive on time, make sure to follow up immediately and ensure that your mail hasn't been redirected without your knowledge.

Review your credit report

By monitoring your credit report from time to time, you'll be able to keep tabs on any suspicious activity and limit any damage, should a crook try to nab your identity. You can request a free copy of your credit report at any time from Canada's two main credit rating agencies (Equifax and TransUnion), as long as you make the request in writing. The inquiry will not affect your credit rating.