Whether you’re shopping online, booking a doctor’s appointment, or paying your monthly credit card bill, advancements in technology have made it easier for Canadians to perform their everyday activities all at the click of a button. However, while these technological leaps have enhanced our lives, they have also scattered our personal information more widely – making your information more accessible to fraudsters than ever before. You might not think you’re at risk – but think again. Identity thieves are using more sophisticated tactics to retrieve your financial and personal information. While it may be impossible to stop identity theft altogether, by remaining vigilant and being proactive, you can take the proper steps to minimize the impact of this threat on your personal and financial security.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft refers to the crime of stealing a person’s identifying information for the purpose of getting money or credit in their name. Think of your personal information like a puzzle: the loss of each piece alone might seem small, but when all those pieces come together, it’s enough for a criminal to steal your identity. By acquiring just a few pieces of your personal information – such as your name, date of birth, home address, or credit card data – fraudsters can easily impersonate you and make financial transactions in your name. From signing you up for a new credit card or home mortgage to taking out a car loan in your name, if an identity thief has acquired your personal information, they can perform a series of fraudulent activities right under your nose.
Here are a few helpful tips to protect yourself against identity theft:
a) Keep Your Credit Card Information Under Lock and Key
Have your driver’s license in your wallet? Check. Got your credit card? Check. Many Canadians today carry several forms of ID in their wallet to perform their everyday errands. However, now is the perfect time to rethink your strategy! By only carrying the credit cards you commonly use in your wallet and leaving the rest safely at home, you can protect your credit card information from falling into the wrong hands. Do you have expired credit cards lying around at home? Now, while you might think your expired credit cards aren’t a target for fraudsters – think again. Whether your credit card is active or expired, fraudsters can still use your card number to obtain your personal data, which could put your identity at serious risk. Also avoid giving out your credit card number via email or the phone unless you trust the person you’re communicating with and have confirmed that your communication channel is secure.
b) Shred Your Sensitive Documents
While the rise of technology has brought phishing and cyber-attacks to the forefront, fraudsters are still willing to go dumpster diving to get their hands on your personal information. So, before you are quick to throw away any personal documents in the garbage – be it an old cell phone bill, debit card, or credit card statement – stop and think twice. Sensitive documents such as these are top targets for fraudsters as they hold desirable information that they can use to compromise your identity.
Looking for ways to safeguard your identity? Invest in a home shredder and use it! Shredding is an effective way to protect your identity as it will slice your sensitive paperwork into tiny pieces, making it much harder for fraudsters to piece your personal information together. By getting into the habit of destroying any old personal documents lying around your home with a shredder before throwing them away in the garbage, you will help protect your information from falling into the wrong hands. Protecting your identity doesn’t stop there! Make sure to cut up or shred any expired bank or credit cards and dispose of them in your garbage over several days. Separating your shredded-up bank card documentation over a few garbage bags will help deter fraudsters who may be scouring through your trash bin to obtain your personal identification. Are you questioning whether you should toss or keep that credit card bill or expired credit card sitting on your desk in your home office? When in doubt – shred it. At the end of the day, shredding documents takes seconds and will pay off in the long haul.
c) Become an Exclusive Member of the Do Not Call List
Do you often find yourself on the receiving end of unsolicited telemarketing calls? You’re not alone. Every year, thousands of Canadians receive unwanted phone calls from telemarketers. With that, it’s more important than ever before to be cautious before giving out your personal information on the phone. Fight to protect your personal information – sign up for the Do Not Call List (DNCL). As a government-run registry, the Do Not Call List helps Canadians reduce the number of unsolicited calls they receive. By adding your number to this registry, you can prevent yourself from receiving solicitor calls that could put your personal information in harm’s way. That’s because all lawful businesses are legally required not to contact individuals on the DNCL, whereas fraudsters are likely to break these rules. So, if you find yourself on a phone call from an individual claiming to be from your financial institution, don’t rush to give out your personal or credit card data. Instead, ask the caller for a callback number and search the digits provided online to verify the legitimacy of the caller’s identity. Another way to address calls requesting your personal or financial information from a number you do not trust is to stop the conversation and hang up the phone. At the end of the day, while you might feel rude, hanging up on that suspicious caller you are weary of could be the difference between having your information stay safe or not.
d) Keep Your Anti-Virus Software Up to Date
In today’s digital age, Canadians are facing new computer viruses and cyber-attacks daily that could put their online security at serious risk. That’s where keeping your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up to date comes in. Regularly updating your firewall, anti-virus software, and anti-spyware protects your computer and other devices from being compromised by viruses that hackers can use to gain access to your device(s). Did you recently buy a new laptop and feel your information is safe even without anti-virus protection? The truth is, no matter how new your computer is, it still needs proper protection. It is important to ensure that all your computer and smartphone devices have the necessary anti-virus and spyware protection installed to help you safeguard your sensitive data and defend against malicious cyber-attacks that could compromise the security of the information on your device.
e) Shop Safely Online
Shopping online? Online shopping allows Canadians to avoid checkout lines and snag the best prices on the products they love – all without entering a store. However, while you may enjoy “shopping” online, fraudsters do too. So, it’s important to be proactive and take the appropriate steps to protect your identity and your money when shopping online. Remember to carefully check the URL at the top of your web browser to ensure the site you are visiting is registered with a legitimate company. Review your URL to ensure it begins with “https” – not “http “- and look for an image of a closed padlock, which will signal the site is safe to use. Now if you find yourself using the public Wi-Fi at your local library or café to check out your favourite clothing store online and add items to your online shopping cart, do not be so quick to input your credit card information – instead, wait until you get back home to pay for that order. Shopping online using your home computer offers you a more secure portal to input your personal data, as public computers may be infected by malware that could put your data at risk.
For more financial literacy tips…become a credit union member
We hope these tips help you feel confident that your personal information is safe and secure. Credit unions are a great financial partner for your everyday banking needs and can provide additional expertise and tips to boost your financial literacy. Many credit unions also offer free financial literacy workshops in their communities through the Each One, Teach One program. Not yet a credit union member? Find your nearest credit union here.