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Tips for newcomers: Protect yourself from identity theft

You don’t give out your Social Insurance Number (SIN), you don’t let your credit card out of your sight and you don’t use your birth date as your password.

So no one can steal your identity, right? Wrong.

“Criminals are out there, right now, looking for information about you,” says Rudy Duschek, a senior consultant with Chrismathers, a Toronto crime and risk consulting firm. 

“You can make it as difficult as possible for the thieves,” advises Ryna Ferlatte, Meyers Norris Penny’s investigative and forensic services practice leader in Toronto.

Here are 10 tips from Duschek and Ferlatte on how to protect yourself.

1.Don’t disclose personal information
“You shouldn’t disclose any personal information, especially if you didn’t initiate the contact,” says Ferlatte. “That includes your SIN, credit card or bank account numbers, passwords, employer, home address, birth date and e-mail address.” The same goes for social media sites, such as Facebook. “I had a client whose identity was stolen and used to steal securities from their financial institution,” says Duschek. “It turned out that the person’s social media pages were filled with names, birthdays and travel itineraries that anyone could access.”

2. Don’t carry important documents with you
“Don’t carry your passport unless you are travelling,” advises Duschek. “Never carry your SIN card, birth certificate or more than two credit cards. I see people walking around with a wallet full of cards and it is identity theft waiting to happen.” Keep the cards you don’t carry with you in a safe place.

3. Protect your credit and debit cards
“When you are using your credit card, try to make sure it doesn’t leave your sight,” suggests Ferlatte. “When you are in a store, look at how protected the debit card terminal is – you may want to use cash instead.” When you are entering your Personal Identification Number (PIN), cover the pad with your other hand. “Don’t ever loan your Automated Teller Machine (ATM) card or credit card to anyone,” says Duschek. “If you do, and if you give them your password, you may negate any protection your financial institution gives you from liability for the consequences of identity theft.” 

4. Keep track of your bills
“If your bills aren’t arriving on time, it may mean that someone is stealing them or copying them to get information such as your account numbers and financial holdings,” says Ferlatte. “If you bank online, you may receive your bills through a secure online billing feature.”

5. Know how your personal information is being used
“You can request that certain information you disclose not be used for other purposes,” says Duschek. “Don’t disclose anything beyond what is required to complete your transaction.” 
Ferlatte suggests being careful about giving out your e-mail address too freely. “You may receive a phishing e-mail. If you click on the link or even just open it, it can install spyware on your computer that can track your keystrokes and obtain your online banking information and passwords.”

6. Destroy documents displaying your personal information 
“Shred, crosscut or burn everything,” advises Duschek. “People think identity thieves are high-tech. In fact, many are low-tech. They can get what they need from your blue box, if you aren’t careful.” Unless you require them for income tax purposes, keep minimal financial documents at home, and do so in a secure manner. “There have been cases where homes are broken into and while nothing appears to have been taken, the residents subsequently become victims of identify fraud,” explains Ferlatte.

7. Be smart about passwords  
“Change passwords frequently and don’t use obvious ones like your birth date or children’s names.” However, don’t make your password so hard to remember that you have to write it down. “I’ve seen astounding things, like passwords written down and posted on the wall,” adds Duschek. “Never share your password, or you may be liable for financial transactions made with your stolen identity.”

8. Get a copy of your credit report 
“It’s a good idea to review your credit report a couple of times a year,” says Ferlatte. “Watch for obviously unusual items such as loans or credit cards taken out in your name that don’t belong to you. You should also look at who else has reviewed your credit file, because that could be a sign that your identity is being used by someone else to apply for credit.” You can also request that credit agencies notify you each time credit is requested in your name.

9. Talk to your financial institutions
“Make sure they always check with you to confirm that any instructions they have received by phone or e-mail are really from you by having proper security questions in place,” advises Duschek. 

10. Be wary of other computers/networks
Don’t forget that banking on-line at the airport or shopping from unsecure Wi-Fi networks can also provide the perfect gift to a thief who is just waiting for an identity to steal! 

11. Don’t think identity theft won’t happen to you 
“For me the operative word is hyper-vigilant,” says Duschek. “Behave as if someone is looking over your shoulder all the time.” 
– The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario

Posted: Oct 2, 2013

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