When Bank One notified Houston veterinarian Mike Janney that he owed $85,000 on his line of credit, he was stunned. "I'm thinking, 'How can this be?' I've never even used this account," Janney told CNN. See: Jared Thorne and Andy Segal, “Identity theft: The new way to rob a bank”. It turned out he was right, he never did use the account, as a bank employee sold Janney’s personal information to an identity theft ring. This is an example of identity theft and the serious impact it can have on the personal lives of its victims. There are also numerous examples of large corporations and organizations being victims of theft, which can impact the lives of thousands of people. For example, in June 2005 a firm that processes credit card accounts for the major credit card companies reported hackers stealing 40 million credit card numbers. See: Cavoukian Ann “Identity Theft Revisited: Security is Not Enough”[Identity Theft Revisited].

Unfortunately, the victims of identity theft are typically unaware they are victims until after the theft occurs. What results is hundreds of hours and dollars spent to repair one’s financial reputation. 

There are three important issues to discuss here; how to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft, effects of being a victim of identity theft, and what actions to take if you have the misfortune of being a victim.

Ways To Prevent Identity Theft

There is no single method that can be used to prevent identity theft. By the very nature of the technologically advanced and dependent society we live in, the constant flow of information will always be putting us in some danger. However, there are many ways in which you can minimize the risk of identity theft. Some are quite obvious and simple and some are not as noticeable but still important. The following are examples of ways to minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft [see Identity Theft Revisited at p 28]:

  • Be very wary of unsolicited emails, telephone calls or mails that attempt to extract personal or financial information from you

  • Minimize the amount of personal information you give out, especially online

  • Never use your SIN as a password or give it out online

  • Only give out your SIN if absolutely necessary

  • Keep items with personal information (passport, birth certificate, citizenship card, etc.) in safe and secure place

  • Guard your mail from theft (lock mail box)

  • Carefully review bills on a regular basis; monitor your account balances frequently

  • Obtain and review your credit report annually

  • Notify credit card companies immediately if card is lost/stolen

  • During transactions, it's safer to swipe your cards yourself than it is to allow a cashier to do it for you. If you must hand over your card, never lose sight of it 

  • Always shield your personal identification number when using an ATM or a PIN pad

  • Shred all personal records and financial statements and do not throw them out

  • Ask business and organizations you deal with to shred your applications once finished with them to prevent dumpster diving

  • Ask credit card companies who print your entire credit card number on sales receipts to abbreviate the number

Other important things to keep in mind are (See: Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada “Identity Theft and You”) [OPC ID Theft & You]:

  • To keep a minimum amount of personal information on your person as possible (never carry your SIN number with you)

  • Ask that your accounts require passwords before any inquiries or changes can be made, whenever possible

  • Choose difficult passwords — not your mother's maiden name. Memorise them, change them often. Don't write them down and leave them in your wallet, or some equally obvious place

  • Find out if your cardholder agreement offers protection from credit card fraud; you may be able to avoid taking on the identity thief's debts

  • Take advantage of technologies that enhance your security and privacy when you use the internet, such as digital signatures, data encryption, and "anonymizing" services

  • Investigate identity theft insurance to see if it would be helpful

  • Don't give your credit card number on the telephone, by electronic mail, or to a voice mailbox, unless you know the person with whom you're communicating or you initiated the communication yourself, and you know that the communication channel is secure. 

All these suggestions are steps that if taken will help to minimize your risk of identity theft. However, as previously mentioned, there is no one sure method of prevention. The risk of identity theft is always present and unfortunately, someone will be a victim.

Effects of Being a Victim of Identity Theft

Even though the Criminal Code was amended to include some restitution for the victims of identity theft, this crime can still have serious impacts on its victims. These impacts which can be financial, physical, psychological or emotional can either be easily resolved or may not be resolved at all.

The impact on victims has been a subject of research and Justice Canada has condensed this into a document on its webpage. See: [Impact of ID Theft on victims].

What To Do If You Are A Victim Of Identity Theft

If you find yourself a victim of identity theft, there are several things that need to be done in order to repair the damage done. The following are actions if you have already become a victim of identity theft: [see Identity Theft Revisited at p 28]

  • Immediately report the crime to the police and keep a copy of the occurrence report

  • Contact the credit reporting agencies and make a fraud alert report

  • Advise all businesses with whom you have a relationship of the possible theft and ask for stronger security measures and a fraud alert to be placed on your accounts

  • Cancel all existing cards and accounts, open new ones and get replacement cards

  • Make sure you document all steps taken and expenses to clear your name and re-establish your credit

  • Tell your employer as an added precaution (if you feel it is necessary)

  • If you suspect someone is stealing your mail, contact the post office

  • Contact the two national credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your credit reports

  • Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to report identity theft and fraud

Other important things to keep in mind are: [OPC ID Theft & You]:

  • Report the incident to local police if the matter involved a theft/crime.

  • Report the incident to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (1-888-495-8501) if the matter involved a scam or fraud.

  • Seek a copy of your credit report and review it.  

  • Advise your bank and credit card companies. Close any accounts and cancel any cards that may have been compromised.

  • Report any missing identity documents or cards, such as a driver’s license, a health card or immigration documents to the appropriate organization.