It can happen to anyone. The phone rings and a collection agency demands that you pay past-due accounts for goods you never ordered. Canada Revenue advises you that you owe back taxes for a job you’ve never had. You are denied life insurance because your medical records show you have been treated for a serious medical condition which you’ve never had. What has happened?
The crime of identity theft is on the rise. Using a variety of methods, criminals steal Social Insurance Numbers, driver’s licenses, credit card numbers, debit cards, telephone calling cards, and other pieces of individuals’ identities such as date of birth.
Since thieves prey on those who have not taken preventative measures, it is up to you to be careful with all of your identification and financial information. For maximum security, make safety a family affair. Limit and monitor children’s access to the Internet and on-line transactions, have a designated person collect the mail, and establish guidelines for when telemarketers call and ask for information.
If you have children, you can—and should—safeguard their identity as well as your own. Some companies have mistakenly sent pre-approved offers for credit to those too young to actually have a credit card. Once your child has received one offer, he or she may very well receive others. Monitor the mail carefully and check your child’s credit report.
Unfortunately, even when you have done all the right things, you may still be a victim of identity theft. While consumer protection laws give you rights, it is your responsibility to take action if fraudulent activity occurs. If someone has used your identity or financial information, it is imperative that you act swiftly and treat the matter seriously. This means, in many cases, dedicating time to letter writing, telephone calls, credit report monitoring, follow-up, and log keeping. Turning from victim to victor takes effort.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft or identity fraud is the taking of the victim’s identity, for either gain, or to cause loss.
In Canada, identity theft or identity fraud are not currently criminal offences—that is to say those specific offences are not included in the Criminal Code of Canada. Instead, various elements of what is commonly known as identity theft or identity fraud are prohibited through sections of the Criminal Code that deal with fraud, false pretences, theft, possession of property obtained by crime, etc. For the purposes of this booklet all of the elements that make up Identity Theft will simply be referred to as Identity Theft.
Identity Theft is often committed to obtain credit, credit cards from banks and retailers, steal money from the victim’s existing accounts, apply for loans, establish accounts with utility companies, rent an apartment, file bankruptcy or obtain a job using the victim’s name. The impersonator steals thousands of dollars in the victim’s name without the victim even knowing about it for months or even years.
Identity theft, however, does not always directly involve the fraudulent obtaining of cash or credit. Criminals use victims’ identities to commit crimes ranging from traffic infractions to felonies. They use victims’ identities to obtain medical treatment (through fraudulently obtained provincial health cards). Identity theft can be used as a form of revenge or punishment. In fact, in the United States, more than 70% of identity theft occurrences are non-credit-related.
Identity theft can be divided into 5 basic types:
1. Identification (driver’s license, passport, etc.);
2. Medical information;
3. Character or criminal identity;
4. Social Insurance Number;
5. Credit identity.