Identity theft may be one of the most common and costliest crimes in Canada, and affects millions of people annually. One of the reasons it is such a common crime is because there are so many ways to commit it—through old-school channels such as physical acquisition of things like wallets, checks, and billing statements, as well as computer-related theft such as phishing and corporate hacking. However it occurs, it results in financial losses of nearly $50 billion per year. On an individual basis, the numbers translate to affect 7 percent of all U.S. adults and cause losses of $3,500 per affected person annually.
Common Online Identity Theft Scams
Before you do anything else online, learn about these common scams so you can protect yourself.
- Fundraising scams—Scammers have no moral boundaries. They will use whatever means necessary to get your personal information. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission released a statement warning consumers to watch out for “con artists trying to take advantage of the oil spill in the gulf” by pretending to be raising money for environmental causes. The same thing happened after the tragic earthquake in Haiti. Scammers posed as charitable causes, getting consumers to fork over money as well as personal information (credit card numbers, bank account info, SSN#, etc.) so they could steal their identities. The lesson? Always have your guard up because scammers will stoop to the lowest levels to steal your identity.
- Online job postings—Scammers will also post fake employment opportunities on job websites and bulletin boards to trick potential applicants into sending over their Social Security numbers and other personal information. With the high unemployment rate, you can bet there are more job posting scams than ever before as scammers are taking advantage of desperate job seekers who have little leverage and will do anything they believe is necessary to nail down that job.
- Free trials and cheap price scams—Recently, we discussed some of the free trial scams plaguing the internet. In addition to running up your credit card bills, some of these free trials are also fronts for identity theft rings. You should always be on the lookout for retailers offering free trials or prices that seem way too good to be true. If you don’t know the merchant, take a little time to do your research before you send over that credit card number. A little precaution now can save you huge headaches later.
If You Become a Victim
Becoming a victim of identity theft is a nightmare nobody wants to deal with, but if it does happen you’ll need to know how to restore your credit. Here are the steps you should take:
- Contact all your creditors. You’ll want to review all recent transactions, determine which accounts are at risk, and have new cards with different account numbers issued to you. You may also need to dispute fraudulent charges and/or have stolen money restored to your accounts.
- Contact all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and have a 90-Day Fraud Alert put on your credit files to warn creditors that your identity has been compromised.
- Change all passwords and PINs. You should be doing this every few months anyway, but if your information has been stolen, be sure to do it immediately and for all accounts and websites.