Identity theft is when a scammer uses your personal information without your knowledge or consent to commit fraud or theft.
It can take many forms. Fraudsters may steal your wallet or break into your mailbox to gather and use your personal information to apply for loans. Or, they may send you suspicious text messages baiting you to click on a link requesting your personal info.
Although you might think it couldn’t happen to you, fraudsters are getting smarter, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to gain their victims’ trust.
Identity theft is a growing concern in Canada.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates 1 in 5 people will fall victim to identity fraud. According to Statistics Canada, from 2017 to 2021, the rate of cyber crime in Canada increased year over year, so keeping your information secure should be top of mind.
In this blog post, we’ll provide examples of identity theft and fraud, explain how you can protect your personal information, and outline what you can do if your information is compromised.
What do scammers want?
The thought of anyone fraudulently accessing your personal information is scary. But understanding how scammers work is the key to protecting yourself.
Scammers see financial benefit to getting their hands on your personal information. They may gain access to your Social Insurance Number (SIN) to carry out an elaborate synthetic identity scam to open accounts under a fake identity. Or, they could attempt to gain direct access to your accounts by sending you an email that appears to be from a legitimate source, like a bank or retailer. This is known as phishing. And what about your tax refund? Fraudsters would like to help themselves to that, too.
Who’s most vulnerable?
It’s safe to assume that everyone’s at risk of identity theft. But there are some populations that should be on high alert.
Senior citizens are a big target for grandparent or emergency scams. Fraudsters have been known to call their victims posing as their grandchild, niece or nephew and request money urgently. They may even browse social media for the names of their targets’ family members.
If you’re a newcomer to Canada, fraudsters may target you due to a misguided perception that you may be unfamiliar with our government. Be suspicious of threatening phone calls from individuals acting as government staff. They may request money from you, and threaten your immigration status if you don’t pay up.
How do you keep scammers away?
Check in with your contacts. If you’ve received a suspicious phone call or text message that appears to be from someone you know or an organization you do business with, contact them directly through your own contact list or by locating the contact details of an organization on their official website.
Just hang up. Some fraudsters rely on caller ID spoofing to disguise their number under a legitimate organization or someone from your contact list. If you receive a suspicious call from a number that appears to be legitimate, don’t share any information with the person on the other end, and hang up.
Watch out for false government scams. Fraudsters not only rely on the trust you have in the government to hook you into their schemes, but they’ll exploit a particular period of time like tax season or a government refund period to encourage you to act. Be aware of any suspicious looking text message or email claiming to be from a government organization offering you a refund. Avoid sharing personal information or clicking any links (as they may contain spyware). Government agencies like the CRA usually do not request personal information over text or email.
Connect safely. As digital services are becoming a mainstay, cyber attacks that compromise your personal information are becoming more prevalent too. Ensuring your online browsers and mobile apps are up to date will offer some built-in security. Likewise, using a secure network when online shopping or accessing your bank account will add an additional layer of security.
Avoid auto-filling passwords. If you’ve ever received a “Remember your password?” message when creating a new online profile, it might be safer to ignore it. Although storing your passwords in your search engine or mobile device is convenient, re-entering your password every time you access your online accounts or shopping profiles can be a good safeguard against scammers.
Be social and secure.
These days, it seems like everyone has a social networking profile. But be careful. What you publish can give fraudsters clues about your identity, allowing them to piece together little bits of information to get a bigger picture of who you are. Even a simple birthday message from loved ones is the perfect crumb for fraudsters. So, whether you’re a digital content creator, or you use social platforms to connect with a small network, the following still applies: avoid posting personal information like your date of birth, full name or phone number.
In general, keep your personal information private. Don’t share your PINs, passwords, or SIN with anyone (unless a potential employer requires your SIN).
Spot that fraud!
Early detection is the key to reducing the risk of fraud on your account. Review your credit report for any changes to your personal information or an inquiry from an unfamiliar lender. And, monitor your bills, financial statements and online accounts for unfamiliar activity. If you have a Capital One credit card and you suspect fraudulent activity on your account, we’ll guide you through the right steps to take.
If you think you’ve become a victim of identity theft, you can contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to report a scam. Reporting fraud gives authorities the chance to warn others about potential schemes.
Think you’ve received a suspicious message claiming to be from Capital One? Follow the steps in this article from our Support Centre.