Identity theft crime is in the news and on the minds of many people these days and identity theft statistics are showing a dramatic increase. The more our lives become digitized, the more at risk we are to identity theft. An identity thief will try to steal as much personal information as possible, such as your social security number, your bank account details, medical identity theft, credit card fraud which could ruin your credit report, your personal identity theft, or even steal your identity entirely. If you don’t know a lot about this topic, it’s time to learn and raise your awareness and what lengths an identity thief will go to. The facts may actually surprise you.
1. Identity Thieves Don’t Always Use the Information They Get
There’s a difference between identity theft and identity fraud. Identity theft is the acquisition or collection of the identifying personal information of one or more people. Identity fraud is the next step, in which criminals use the information they’ve obtained to commit a litany of crimes, from running up an individual’s credit card bills to opening new accounts in their name and other, non-financial crimes involving personal identity.
Fortunately, both are crimes—simply obtaining another person’s identity information with criminal intent is against the law in Canada. In many cases, identity thieves hold onto the information of hundreds or thousands of people in the hopes of either selling that information or using only a few of the identities they’ve stolen. Even if no fraud occurs, identity theft is a serious crime that you should not take lightly.
2. Old-School Identity Theft is Prevalent and Dangerous
We tend to think of identity theft as a cybercrime and, indeed, most of the big news stories on this topic cover large-scale theft operations in which thousands (or even millions, as in the recent Equifax breach) of people’s identities are stolen. But that’s not the only way this crime occurs. Theft from personal information on bills and other stuff you throw away is also common, though it isn’t as widely reported because it tends to affect only one person or family at a time.
3. This is an Extremely Common Crime
Given that both large-scale and individual theft is so prevalent, it comes as no surprise that Canadians often fall victim to this crime. According to the RCMP, more than 10,000 Canadians dealt with identity theft, which was an increase over the previous year. That was nearly a decade ago, and it’s become worse since then.
4. Prevention Efforts are nothing Compared to Recovery
Some thefts are resolved quickly. For example, if your car is stolen, you can report it to the police and they’ll either find it or not, and your next steps will be pretty clear from there. The process of recovering from identity theft is nowhere near as clear. People spend millions of hours every year dealing with the fallout from identity theft and fraud.
5. Damage Doesn’t Stop When Criminals Do
Part of the reason recovery is so difficult is that identity theft or fraud can touch so many different areas of a victim’s life. If actual fraud occurs, you can suffer in various ways, including a plummeting credit score, outstanding bills from fraudulent credit card charges and higher insurance premiums. Even you don’t have proof that fraud has occurred, it can be difficult to change all the necessary information to protect yourself and to be completely sure that thieves haven’t actually used your information.
6. You May Not Know You’re a Victim Until It’s Too Late
The process of being sure thieves don’t use your information isn’t exactly clear, either. Monitoring for theft itself is still quite difficult, and identifying fraud is even harder. Most people find out about this crime due to strange credit card charges and other things that obviously aren’t right, but criminals engaged in other activities don’t leave such an obvious trail.
7. Your Social Insurance Number Isn’t the Only Data Thieves Seek
We tend to focus on the social insurance number as the most theft-vulnerable identity information, but that’s just the beginning. Criminals look for other information, including:
- Names (including the names of children and parents)
- Passport and driver’s license numbers
- Phone numbers
- Birth dates
- Credit card and bank account numbers
- Online account usernames and passwords
8. Not all Identity Thieves have Financial Goals
Sometimes, financial theft isn’t the goal. Identity criminals may want to create duplicate passports or driver’s license or use your identity to hide other crimes. This contributes to the difficulty in detecting and fighting back against identity theft and fraud.
9. You Can Protect Yourself
Luckily, there are some things you can do to protect yourself. And one of the simplest? Don’t throw your bills into the trash can without obscuring your personal information! Shred all paper bank statements and other financial documents that reveal the relevant information listed above. Additionally, you should set hard-to-guess passwords for your important online accounts and avoid using the same information for each account. Be careful in writing checks and using your credit card. Seek out banks that have good identity theft protection programs and stay up to date about the latest techniques and strategies for protecting yourself. It’s also important to stay informed on how identity criminals are operating at any given point in time as their methods tend to evolve quickly.
Also, you must stay on top of your own information and be careful not to dismiss anything that seems strange. It’s not always fun to spend time reviewing your finances—for most people, it’s never fun, so they don’t really do it—but that’s part of the reason why these criminals are able to succeed. The second you see a charge on a credit card or get a collection call from an account you didn’t open, you should start to take action to protect yourself.
10. You Can Fight Back
If you do end up as a victim of identity theft or fraud, you may be able to fight back in court. Unfortunately, sometimes charges can’t be filed if you don’t catch the crime soon enough. That’s another motivator for staying on top of your finances and acting as quickly as possible. No matter how old the crime, speaking to a lawyer may help put your situation into context and provide guidance for a way forward. Be aware of what is happening to make sure you don’t become the next identity theft victim.