Many people think that protecting themselves from identity theft is as simple as not giving out their Social Insurance Number (SIN), keeping their credit card in their sight and not using passwords as simple as a birth date. But there’s a lot more to it than that, according to Ontario Chartered Accountants.
“Criminals are out there, right now, looking for information about you,” says Chartered Accountant Rudy Duschek, a senior consultant with chrismathers inc., a Toronto crime and risk consulting firm. “Identity thieves are perceived as being opportunistic and fast workers, but the opposite is true. They are extremely patient.”
There are steps you can take to protect yourself. “You may never be able to completely prevent identity theft, but you can make it as difficult as possible for the thieves,” advises Chartered Accountant Ryna Ferlatte, MNP LLP’s investigative and forensic services practice leader in Toronto.
Here are 11 tips from Duschek and Ferlatte on how people can protect themselves from identity theft.
- 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.”
- 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.” Be sure to keep the cards you don’t carry with you in a safe place.
- 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,” he says.
- 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 want to opt to receive your bills through a secure online billing feature offered by your financial institution.”
- 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.” If you are shopping online, Ferlatte suggests asking vendors about their privacy policies and how they use, store and protect your information. “Be careful about giving out your e-mail address too freely,” she adds. “While your e-mail address may seem like innocuous information to reveal, companies’ customer databases are increasingly being compromised. The result may be that you receive a phishing e-mail. If you click on the link in the e-mail or even just open it, it can install spyware on your computer that can track your keystrokes and obtain your online banking account information and passwords.”
- Destroy documents displaying your personal information – “Shred, cross-cut 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 a minimal number of financial documents in your 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.
- Be smart about passwords – “A good password can help,” says Ferlatte. “Change it 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- Be wary of other computers/networks – Don’t forget that banking online 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.
- 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.”