Identity theft scams and how to avoid them

Jan 22, 2013 3 minute read

Identity theft is one of Canada’s fastest-growing crimes. In 2011, it accounted for more than $13.2 million in losses. While you may never be completely safe from identity theft, you can minimize the risk by knowing some of the common scams and how to protect yourself.

Skimming, shoulder surfing and electronic pickpocketing

At the mall, in a restaurant, at the gas pump—there’s always an opportunity for someone to collect your personal information. Your identity can even be picked from your pocket, without your card ever leaving it. The cards you wave in front of a machine to pay with are enabled with radio frequency identification (RFID). They’re easy to use. Unfortunately, they’re also easy to steal information from.

  • Keep an eye on your card and make sure a cashier or server doesn’t swipe it twice, skimming your pertinent details for their own purposes in the process.
  • Stay alert to any shoulder surfers standing close by and be discreet when entering your PIN.
  • At bank machines or any self-pay machines, insert your card then do a wiggle test. If the mechanism is loose or you see protruding wires or tape around it, don’t use it.
  • To stave off electronic pickpocketing, wrap RFID-enabled cards in foil.

Phishing, smishing and other online credit card grabs

Any electronic communication claiming your account information has been compromised, declaring you’ve won a (too good to be true) prize or asking for your username, password or credit card number is likely a scam. Reputable organizations will never ask you for this information unsolicited.

  • If there’s a link, don’t click it.
  • Never email account numbers, your SIN or other confidential data.
  • Use only one card with a low credit limit for online purchasing, and regularly check the statement online.
  • Purchase only from secure sites—they will have “https” in their web address.
  • Use unique, strong passwords and change them regularly.
  • If unsure of the validity of an email or text message, contact the sender but use contact information on its site, not as provided in the message.

Computer viruses

Think before you click. If you receive a message, with a suspicious-looking attachment or link, don’t click it, even if it’s from someone you know. It could unleash a virus that gives cyber-thieves full access to your computer.

  • Anti- up your computers and other devices. Install the most recent antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall filters, and keep them up-to-date.
  • Run the latest web browser.
  • Back up data regularly to an external hard drive or online backup service.

Social media

How much of your life do you reveal on your social networks? Photos, names of family members, upcoming trips, the MLS listing for your home? This video shows how easily your social media activity can identify you.

  • Know who is in each of your networks. Connect only with people you know.
  • Be careful of how much information you divulge in each network.
  • Check privacy settings, and provide only the minimum amount of personal information in each profile.
  • Use a different password for each account.

The classics

While scams are becoming more technologically sophisticated, personal information can still be easily plucked from your garbage can, mailbox or purse.

  • Shred government documents, financial statements and other paperwork containing confidential information.
  • If you’re expecting a credit card in the mail, contact the issuer if it doesn’t arrive within the specified time.
  • Pay attention to billing cycles. If you haven’t received a bill in the mail in a while, inquire after it. Switch to paperless billing if it’s offered.
  • Carry only the cards you need. Don’t write down passwords and carry them in your wallet. If you must write them down, secure them in a safe place at home.

Be proactive

When it comes to identity theft, you needn’t be paranoid, but you should be proactive. Check your credit rating annually via Equifax or TransUnion to ensure there’s no suspicious activity in your credit history. You can minimize the loss in the event of such theft with identity theft insurance.

Identity Theft Insurance

For an annual premium of only about $35, you can receive coverage that makes sure the damage to your credit and inconvenience to you are minimal. Don’t forget, identity theft insurance can help protect you before, during, and after your identity has been compromised. Contact a local BrokerLink insurance advisor to learn more.