TRURO – It lurks in the shadows, affects countless numbers of Canadians every year and carries a dollar value that has surpassed that of the illegal drug trade.
© Harry Sullivan - Truro Daily News
Welcome to the world of ‘identity theft’.
“You don’t know if you are a victim (at least right away) and we don’t know how the big the problem is,” says Roger Miller, president of North Eastern Protection Services Ltd., and a member of the Colchester Police Advisory Board.
During a recent presentation to Colchester County Council, Miller said that in 2011 a police task force established to tackle telemarketing fraud in Canada reported that more than $13 million had been stolen from 21,749 victims.
Those were the known cases, which he said experts believe represent only five per cent of the actual numbers.
Identity theft is when someone illegally uses another individual’s personal information for their gain and it can be achieved with such basic details as your name, date of birth, employer and income level to obtain credit or create a fictitious identity using your data.
“If that information gets breached, you are wide open (for criminal abuse).”
With identity theft, which Miller said has been called the “crime of the century, the number of victims is also unknown and a perpetrator can stay hidden until they have amassed enough credit in someone else’s name to take out a mortgage or a large line of credit.
“In a lot of cases, banks will make these things go away,” Miller said. “You and I are paying for that.”
A case in point is a CBC story from this week involving a Canadian whose $87,555 inheritance was wired by the Bank of Montreal to a scammer after the staff person involved failed to ask security questions.
The man, Bruce Taylor, was having open-heart surgery in Houston, Texas when his account was emptied. Although he has since been reimbursed with interest, Taylor said it took several frustrating months for the bank to take financial responsibility for its error.
“I think (BMO was) just trying to wear me out, hoping I would just fade away … or die,” he said, in the CBC story. “I’m living proof that (the bank’s operations) can be compromised,” he said. “In my opinion, it just means nobody’s money is safe.”
Miller said he also recently had some funds transferred out of his account that he knew nothing about until he found an inconsistency in his bank statement.
“I have been reimbursed but no one will explain why it happened and I have to monitor to make sure it isn’t a more serious breach looming,” he said.
Given the amount of personal information that many people share on social media sites, such as Facebook, and the fact that security surveillance cameras now are located at pretty much every retail and business location, Miller said people are electronically tracked from the time they leave home in the morning until they go to bed at night.
Stop at a coffee shop or gas station for instance and use a debit or credit card and you are electronically tracked. Pass through a tollbooth and you are scanned by a camera, or buy a ticket or other product online and your personal data is sent hurling through the information hyperspace.
Or, simply check into a hotel and your entire profile of personal information goes into an electronic database that one day could be hacked or otherwise compromised.
“Stop putting stuff on Facebook,” Miller said, of such personal information as travel plans or anything else that could leave you susceptible to being victimized.
Another major no, no, he said, is carrying your social insurance number (SIN) on your person. That information is vital and can provide a major gateway to identify theft should it fall in the wrong hands. And given that the federal government doesn’t even issue SIN cards anymore (the information is provided instead in a letter) there is absolutely no need to carry it with you.
And absolutely stay away from spam e-mails offering free credit scores or other requests that require you providing personal information.
“You should never respond to those e-mails,” Miller said.
To help prevent identify theft, he recommends carefully checking banking statements for any inconsistencies and shredding or burning any correspondence that may contain personal information.
“I’m not down on the Internet, I use it every day,” he said. But he does advise being cautious, because once your data makes its way onto the information highway - in whatever format - it is there forever.
“It’s out there, you can’t take it back,” he said.
RCMP offer tips for fraud prevention month
HALIFAX - March is Fraud Prevention Month and the RCMP encourages Nova Scotians to protect themselves by learning how to recognize it and by safeguarding their personal information.
In the hands of the wrong person, personal information could mean serious financial consequences.
``Be cautious when sharing your personal information,” said Sgt. Tom Murdock of the Nova Scotia RCMP financial crime team, in a news release. “Be mindful of what you share and who you share it with. Each personal detail, while seemingly innocent on its own, is a piece of a puzzle that when put together, provides a very clear picture of your personal and financial identity.”
Criminals will go to great lengths to acquire personal information, and there are many scams by which they do so, Murdock said.
“Someone may call and pose as a legitimate business, person, or government official to get an individual to provide their personal information,” he said. “Or they will send emails that appear to be from legitimate organizations urging an immediate response about an account issue in hopes of obtaining banking or credit card information.”
Some scammers simply observe financial transactions at ATM or retail debit machines to collect credit card or bank card numbers, while others go through people’s mail or garbage to find personal information.
The RCMP offers the following tips to protect yourself from fraud:
· Be wary of unsolicited e-mails, telephone calls or mail seeking personal or financial information from you;
· Never voluntarily give out information to unknown callers;
· Always question urgent requests for money, particularly from people you do not know;
· Be mindful that individuals may be watching as you enter your PIN while using an ATM machine or retail debit machine;
· Be cautious about the personal information your share online through social media.
For more information on common scams and to get more tips to protect yourself, please visit http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/scams-fraudes/index-eng.htm. If you think you or someone you know has been a victim of fraud please contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre 1-888-495-8501 or www.antifraudcentre.ca.