Shredding documents with identifying details on them is one way to ensure criminals can’t steal your information (Shutterstock/Lolostock)
Criminals are defrauding an increasing number of Canadians, with numerous reports indicating that scams—including cyber, insurance, and phone—are on the rise.
A 2018 report from PwC indicated that 55 per cent of Canadian respondents were victims of economic crime, up from 37 per cent in 2016, while CPA Canada’s 2019 Annual Fraud Study found that 70 per cent of people are more concerned about fraud today than they were five years ago.
“It’s absolutely [getting worse],” says Tara Zecevic, vice-president of fraud prevention and identity management with Equifax Canada, one of the country’s two credit reporting agencies. She points out that fraud costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars a year. “It’s a going concern.”
Despite fraud continually making headlines and Canadians being more vulnerable to having their identities stolen, many people are still unfamiliar with fraud and how it works. Here’s what you need to know:
WHAT IS FRAUD?
Fraud is what crooks commit after they’ve stolen your identity, says Zecevic. First, a criminal steals your personal information, whether that’s through online phishing emails, pulling personal information out of the garbage, or another way. They would then use that information to open a credit card, take out a mortgage or start a new bank account in your name. It’s when they start stealing your money, or funds from an institution, that fraud occurs. “Once they get a mobile or a credit card or a passport number, they can start using that information for criminal activity,” she says.
HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST FRAUD?
There’s no foolproof way to protect against fraud, but there are some steps to take to lessen the chance of something nefarious happening. The first step is ensuring criminals can’t steal your information. Zecevic suggests shredding any documents with identifying details on them, avoiding opening any unfamiliar emails, not leaving a passport lying around on a trip, and so on.
However, Canadians must go beyond some of the more obvious anti-identity theft measures. For example, don’t use public Wi-Fi, which is often unsecured and easy to hack. As well, make sure any computer or phone you do buy, especially if it’s second-hand, hasn’t been hacked. Try it out before buying and look for signs of a hack, including slow-to-load videos, crashing apps and sudden device resets.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF YOU ARE BEING DEFRAUDED?
It’s not always easy to tell if you’ve been the victim of fraud, but one way to check is to see if any odd charges have been placed on your credit card. It depends on the lender, but typically people have 30 days to dispute a claim on a card, says Zecevic, so it’s important to check every statement.
Equifax and TransUnion can also create fraud alerts under your name, says Zecevic. If someone tries to open a bank account, get a loan or credit card with your information, you’ll receive a call from an agent to make sure that you made that request. “It’s about being prepared and doing due diligence,” she says. [See Stay alert: Watch out for these signs of identity theft]
WHAT HAPPENS IF A FRAUD HAS OCCURRED?
Consumers should call their financial institution right away if a fraud has occurred. Banks, credit card companies and other lenders will work with consumers—you will have to fill out some paperwork—to remove any fraudulent charges.
Equifax and TransUnion can also do the legwork for you, for a fee. They have identity-theft specialists on staff who can call Passport Canada, credit card companies, driver’s licensing authorities and others to tell them that your identity has been stolen and that you’ll need new documents. In any case, “you’ll want to minimize the impact,” says Zecevic. “You have to get in front of it and it will take time to resolve, but you’re not usually held liable for any fraudulent activity.”
There’s no doubt fraud will become a bigger issue going forward. Fraudsters are getting more savvy and they often try old tricks when new ones get thwarted. Fortunately, financial firms are becoming smarter too. “Hackers are always trying to change things up,” she says. “On the flip side, lenders are investing in education and taking more measures to protect themselves.”
GET SMART ABOUT IDENTITY THEFT
Read 4 things you need to know about identity theft right now to understand how scammers target victims and how you can protect yourself.
You can also learn how to recognize signs of fraud and what to do if you’re a victim by requesting a financial literacy session with a CPA Canada volunteer.