Area of Law: Criminal Law
Answer # 1813
Identity theftRegion: Ontario Answer # 1813
What is identity theft?
Identify theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your knowledge or consent to commit a crime. The most common types of personal information stolen are your credit card numbers or debit card information. Identity theft is also known as identity fraud. If you have been charged with a criminal offence such as fraud, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible.
What can be done with your stolen information?
Once someone else has access to your personal information, they can commit various types of theft or fraud. Using your stolen identity, thieves can:
- open new bank accounts,
- access existing bank accounts and withdraw or spend money from them,
- transfer bank balances,
- apply for loans or credit cards in your name,
- make purchases,
- apply for a passport or social benefits in your name,
- divert your mail to their address,
- rent an apartment in your name,
- establish utility services such as hydro and cable,
- change the passwords and contact information of your online accounts.
How can your personal information be stolen?
Many people are victims of identity theft without even knowing it.
There are many ways your personal information can be stolen. Phishing is a common tactic used by identity thieves. Fraudsters pretend to be someone you know such as your employer, or your bank, or someone you owe money to and to try steal your personal information. They look for potential victims through telephone calls, emails or fake websites.
Personal information can be stolen from anywhere and at anytime, and during everyday activities, You could be out in public places, or at home shopping online, surfing the Internet and posting to social media sites, sending and receiving emails and texts, and banking.
Whether you are online, at home, or out in public, someone could:
- steal from your wallet or purse
- steal from your car
- steal your physical mail that could include discarded bills and bank statements
- hack your online accounts
- hack your email
- get information from your phone when you use free wifi
- look in your garbage or recycling bin for personal documents
- tamper with an ATM in a store to steal your banking information
- search public sources for personal information (social media)
In addition, many of the biggest scams involve banks and government security breaches. They are often the result of:
- computer hacks,
- employee fraudsters accessing large databases of information from which any number of frauds can be committed, such as producing credit cards based on the personal information of real people,
- improper storage or destruction of personal information,
- breaches stemming from the transfer of information, and
- inadequate security software.
What types of information can be stolen?
- name, address and telephone numbers
- date of birth
- user names and online passwords
- credit card numbers
- bank accounts and PIN numbers
- birth certificates
- passport number
- driver’s licence
- Social Insurance Number
- other government account information
How do you know if you are a victim of identity theft?
Look for the following warning signs if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft:
- collection agencies contact you about purchases you didn’t make or accounts that do not exist
- you receive calls from creditors informing you that you have been approved for, or denied credit that you have not applied for
- your credit report shows activity you do not recognize, such as debt or incorrect information about paying bills on time or not being paid at all
- you apply for credit cards or loans and are denied for unexpected reasons
- your bank or financial statements show activity you do not recognize, such as withdrawals or transactions you did not make
What to do if you are a victim of identity theft
If you are victim of identity theft, there are a number of steps you should take to report it and stop it from continuing. These steps will help restore your credit and your identity:
- Make a list all of the information that was lost or stolen, such as credit card numbers, bank account information, and government ID
- Report your identity theft or fraud with the police and ask for a copy of the police report; give copies to any institution that may be involved in the theft, such as your bank or credit card company
- Report your identity theft or fraud to the Canadian Ant-Fraud Centre (CAFC)
- Obtain a copy of your credit report from both Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada and review your information. Then notify creditors of suspicious activity such as accounts that exist that you did not open
- Request that a “Fraud Warning” is placed on your credit file with both Equifax and TransUnion – to instruct any creditors (such as credit card companies) to notify you before opening any new accounts in your name. This will remain on your file for six years.
- If your credit cards or bank cards have been lost or stolen, notify each financial institution immediately, cancel all existing cards and accounts and open new ones
- Contact Canada Post if you think your mail has been diverted to another address
- Make note of any communication you may have had about the theft with law enforcement, your bank, or any other agencies
Theft of federal documents
If your immigration documents have been lost or stolen, or you think someone else has your information, contact Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
If your passport has been lost or stolen, contact Passport Canada and apply for a new passport. An investigation will normally take place if you believe your passport has been stolen before you will be issued a new passport.
Theft of provincial documents
Contact the applicable provincial government office if documents such as your driver’s licence, birth certificate or health care have been lost or stolen.
What you can do to protect yourself against identity theft
There are many of steps you can take to help prevent identity theft or fraud from happening.
- shred any documents that contain personal information (ie. credit card statements, expired IDs) that you no longer need
- don’t give out personal information such as your SIN, bank PIN or credit card numbers over the phone,
- empty your mailbox daily, or have Canada Post suspend your mail while on vacation or have someone you know collect it for you
- store documents such as passports, health card, SIN and birth certificates in a safe place
- review your bank account and credit card statements frequently and report any suspicious activity to your financial institution
- don’t reply to suspicious emails or phone messages
- obtain and review your credit report once a year
- change online passwords regularly and make them secure (don’t use common information about yourself)
- don’t post personal info such as date of birth, mailing address, or SIN on social media sites
- have the most current anti-virus software and firewall on your computer
- don’t send financial information by email or text
- when purchasing online, make sure site is secure. It should begin with https://
- don’t open links that appear in an email asking you to begin a financial transaction. Go directly to the organizations website.
For more information about what to do if you are victim of identity theft or identity fraud, or how to prevent it, refer to the RCMP’s Identity Theft and Identity Fraud Victim Assistance Guide.
If you discover you are a victim of fraud, it is a good idea to contact a fraud recovery expert for advice.
If you have been charged with identity theft, a fraud, or any criminal offence, contact our preferred criminal law expert, Calvin Barry Criminal Lawyers.
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