Identity theft or identity fraud occurs when a person steals the personal information of another to use for criminal purposes, usually financial gain. Names, addresses, SIN and license numbers, birth dates, phone numbers, email addresses, and passwords are common pieces used. These details can be used to access personal accounts, like bank accounts, membership accounts, or accounts on government sites like the Canada Revenue Agency. Thieves can apply for new credit cards or access current ones, spend money using Interac or PayPal, open bank accounts of their own, change passwords and take over email accounts and social media, rent or buy a car or lease an apartment, or commit crimes using your details. If your identity is assumed online, such as a Facebook or Twitter account that are open to posting to the public, much damage can be done to one’s personal life and relationships, and potentially affect a job, or career prospects.

Identity theft can occur in many ways, both digitally and analogue (non-digital means). Many companies have been targeted through hacking and major data breaches pop up in the news each week. Both businesses and individuals can be targeted for identity fraud purposes and it doesn’t require a technical wizard to hack into people’s network to do so.

Individuals and businesses are often targeted through mail theft, especially during vacations when it’s clear no one is home or at the office to collect it. Trash and recycling can be rifled through. Homes and offices can be broken into, and, much more commonly, easily accessed by partners, family, friends, acquaintances, and customers. It’s important to access paper shredding services near you to ensure the everyday personal information that is contained on paperwork, files, documents, and mail is properly shredded and recycled to prevent recovery.

Information can be accessed through social media, and people should be careful which personal details they reveal online and to whom. Weak passwords are easy for experts to guess, and if they’re written down anywhere, no guesswork is required. It’s important to not speak credit card numbers aloud or give out names, addresses, and phone numbers where anyone can overhear.

Identity theft prevention starts with your habits and actions.

  • Frequently empty your mailbox and get a friend to help empty it if you’re going away or use Canada Post’s hold system.
  • Keep important documents and cards like passports and birth certificates in a fireproof, lockable safe.
  • Don’t give out information over the phone unless you’ve called the organization, like Service Ontario, yourself.
  • Don’t give out more information than a company needs to complete your transaction. A potential employer or landlord cannot ask for your SIN number on an application to a potential position or an apartment.
  • Don’t allow apps and software-as-a-service programs to access your phone’s ID number or any other suspicious permissions.
  • Regularly shred files and destroy old electronic devices that contain a wealth of sensitive information, and don’t leave the current ones in the open.
  • Only put your name and address on personal cheques, and avoid using paper cheques, where possible.
  • Regularly change your passwords, make them strong with uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Never write your passwords down in the home or at the office, and don’t share them with anyone.
  • Give employees unique passwords and restrict lower level employees’ access to accounting software.
  • Only complete financial transactions on secure and trustworthy sites.
  • Companies should regularly hire third-parties to perform thorough security audits.
  • Regularly check the balances and transactions in bank and credit card accounts for suspicious activity.

Identity fraud is frightening, but there are many things that are in your control to protect yourself and your business today.