This is what identity theft can do to your life (and here's how you can avoid it)

Mar 9 2018, 8:45 pm

Almost everything we do these days is processed through a digital platform. From your social activity, to shopping, to managing your finances. Access to all of your personal information is literally at your fingertips.

Of course, it’s a blessing that technology has the potential to make our lives easier in this way, but there are dangers, too. One of the most devastating outcomes and something that you probably don’t think about regularly is identity theft. It can easily happen – when you least expect it.

A fraudster needs only identifiable information like your social insurance number, your driver’s license number, or access to your financial accounts to do destructive damage to your life. According to a recent study by Capital One Canada, millennials are hyper-aware of the impact that identity theft can have on their lives in comparison to baby boomers.

Millennials realize that identity theft could ruin their chances of a milestone purchase like a home (65%), impact their mental health (49%), affect their job security, and how they would care for loved ones. Despite this, only 53% of Canadians are taking some of the recommended steps to protect themselves against identity theft.

Are you one of them?

If so, we’ve compiled a list of eight ways that you can protect yourself and avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.

Protect your personal information – at all times

When you’re talking on the phone, emailing, or making inquiries online, you should always know who you’re sharing your personal information with. It’s easy to auto-fill forms in a bid to get things done quickly, but if you don’t know that you’re using a reliable source, you could be in trouble. If you keep your social media profiles private and don’t post things like your pet’s name, your mom’s maiden name, or your elementary school name (all common security questions), you have a better chance of staying safe.

Select a strong PIN and protect it

Right now, do you have one or more PIN codes which include information like your birth date, address, or telephone number? You need to change them ASAP. Information like this or your SIN number is exactly what a fraudster is looking for. Make sure to cover the keypad at all times when you’re entering it. Who cares if you look overprotective? You should be – 88% of Canadians are actively protecting themselves against fraud by refraining from sharing their PIN with others.

Take advantage of the features your card offers

Guy paying via card/Shutterstock

So, 76% of Canadians regularly monitor their online banking and credit card accounts, according to Capital One. But that alone often isn’t enough. Most credit cards have opt-in fraud detection features such as two-way fraud alerts, purchase notifications, etc. Why not take advantage of these options if they’re available to you?

Monitor your credit score

Staying on top of your credit is key: You should be fully aware if someone tries to open a new loan account in your name, or worse, has used your information to default on a loan. Over 70% of Canadians say that their credit score would be impacted if they became a victim of identity theft, but only 21% regularly check their credit report. Credit Keeper* is an easy to use and free credit score tool from Capital One.

The tool gives you access to your TransUnion® credit score and it’s updated every week when you log in to give you a good understanding of your credit report. It doesn’t matter if you’re consistently checking your score because using Credit Keeper will never affect it.

“Everyone wants to have a good score, so Credit Keeper can [help] you by not only letting you know what your score is but providing you with success factors to help you take action to improve your score,” Brent Reynolds, chief customer experience officer for Capital One Canada, told Daily Hive.

Get a copy of your credit report

Girl reviewing document/Shutterstock

Have you ever reviewed a copy of your credit report? Well, you can order a copy once per year from the two credit reporting agencies in Canada. Simply taking the time to review your credit report can alert you to possible fraud and identity theft.

Report fraud immediately

It’s the worst feeling in the world when you lose your wallet because you typically have what feels like your entire life inside it. Naturally, you’re going to be upset but it’s important to report your lost wallet or credit card right away and make your providers are aware. Your financial institution will typically have measures in place to protect your information.

“If you’re the victim of identity theft and it’s gone undetected, you may notice an impact to your credit score because the fraudsters will often use your information to make fraudulent transactions which they don’t intend to pay back, and that can have a negative impact on your credit score. Monitoring your credit score on a frequent basis through tools like Credit Keeper helps you to stay on top of this, and if you notice any negative change in your credit score, you can alert your credit providers right away,” said Reynolds.

“The last thing you want to do is be trying to fix these things when you’re in the process of closing on a mortgage.”

Use a different password for every account

Girl using phone/Shutterstock

As much as we humans like to think we can do everything, generating unique passwords is something that we run into difficulty with when we have multiple accounts. For this reason, it could be helpful to use a password manager to create complex, encrypted passwords for each site you visit. For example, once you build a strong password, you could also add the first three characters of each website to your password for that site. Bingo.

Watch out for phishing e-mails

Email is one of the most common forms that fraudsters use to find victims. So if you get an email that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Things you can be vigilant about in emails include; grammatical or spelling errors, emails that demand an urgent response, and any embedded links that make the website appear illegitimate. If you’re unsure or want to get more information, contact the company that it claims to be from to verify the email.

“Signing up for Credit Keeper, getting your weekly credit score, managing your account settings to allow for real-time notifications of purchases or alerts on your personal credit line, these are all really simple ways to help you avoid a lot of headaches down the road if you are the victim of identity fraud,” Reynolds added.

Fraud survey stats provided by Capital One Canada. Survey responses were collected from 1,514 randomly selected Canadian adults. The margin of error is +/- 2.5%. Read the detailed study here.

*Credit Keeper is a service offered by Capital One Canada and is powered by credit history and score information provided by TransUnion. Availability may vary depending on the ability to verify your identity and obtain your information from TransUnion. The credit score provided by Credit Keeper is intended for your educational use only. Lenders and other commercial users may use a different type of credit score and other information when making credit decisions. Currently, Credit Keeper isn’t available for Capital One customers who live in the province of Quebec, or who have a Capital One Mastercard exclusively for Costco members.

Catriona HughesCatriona Hughes

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