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Posted on February 21st 2006 in Legal Articles

Keeping Your Identity Your Own

Keeping Your Identity Your Own

Identity theft has been an ongoing issue for a number of years south of the border. And in recent years the problem has crept into the Canadian landscape. In this article we provide you with information about what identity theft is, how it occurs, what to do if you are a victim and tips for protecting yourself.

What is Identity Theft?
As the name suggests, identity theft occurs when someone steals another’s identity to use as his/her own. This allows the thief to impersonate the victim and commit further crimes. For instance, the thief will likely access the victim’s financial accounts, apply for loans and credit cards as well as run up large expenses all in the victim’s name.

Some of the ways that a thief may get sufficient personal information to steal your identity include:
• Going through your mail.
• Arranging to have your mail redirected.
• Going through your garbage to find discarded statements and pre-approved credit applications.

Signs Your Identity May Have Been Stolen
• Bills and statements do not arrive as expected.
• You get calls from collection agencies or creditors for an account you do not have or you know is up to date.
• Bank statements indicate withdrawals or transfers you did not make.
• You are turned down for credit despite having a good credit rating.
• A creditor calls to tell you that you have been approved for credit that you did not apply for.

What To Do if You are a Victim of Identity Theft?
• Report the crime to police immediately and get a copy of the police report, which you can use as proof of the theft.
• Contact the fraud departments of the two major credit bureaus.
Equifax (800-465-7166)
Trans Union (877-525-3823)
• Contact the PhoneBusters National Call Centre.
• Complete an Identity Theft Statement, which can be downloaded from www.phonebusters.com, and forward the statements to your financial institutions, credit card companies and other companies.
• Cancel your credit cards and get new ones issued.
• Close your bank accounts and open new ones.
• Get a new driver’s licence.
• Have your credit report reflect the identity theft.
• Check your credit report regularly to ensure your identity has not been stolen again.
• Alert telephone, cable and utility companies of the theft.
• Avoid “credit-repair” companies.
• Keep a log of who you talk to and what was said.

Is Identity Theft a Crime?
YES! When someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge it is a crime. An identity thief could be charged with impersonation and/or fraud. In both cases the thief could face a maximum prison term of 10 years.

Tips to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
• When asked to provide personal information ask how it will be used, why it is needed and how it will be safeguarded.
• Be particularly careful about giving out your social insurance number.
• Give out your credit card number and other personal information over the phone only if you initiated the call.
• Never loan your credit card to anyone.
• Pay attention to your billing cycle. If a bill fails to arrive when it should, contact the companies to ensure that it has not been redirected.
• Notify credit card companies immediately if your cards are lost or stolen or if there is a discrepancy in your monthly statement.
• Access your credit report from a credit reporting agency once a year to ensure it is accurate.
• Choose difficult passwords, i.e. not your mother’s maiden name.
• Shred personal financial information, including pre-approved credit card applications.
• Avoid solicitations disguised as promotions or surveys and offering instant prizes. These may have been designed solely for the purpose of obtaining your personal details.

With a little vigilance and care your identity should remain yours alone.