What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is the preparatory stage of acquiring and collecting someone else’s personal information for criminal purposes. [RCMP Identity Fraud]. It is the unlawful violation of an individual’s right to the protection of his/her privacy. This illegitimate acquisition of your information can be performed in a variety of ways. Most commonly, identity theft includes stealing, misrepresenting or hijacking the identity of another person or business. “Identity” refers to essential information for every person, including name, address, date of birth and social insurance number.
Identity thieves access this information in a variety of ways, some of which are very secret, while others are quite conspicuous and apparent. For example, a thief may acquire a victim’s financial records by stealing or hacking records while at his/her place of employment. They may simply steal mail (bank or credit card statements) or dumpster dive through your trash. Thieves also steal credit or debit card numbers through the use of data storage devices; this is called skimming.
Using this information, identity thieves can wreak havoc on your financial situation. They can potentially access financial accounts, apply for credit cards and loans and make expensive purchases in your name. They may purchase a car through a loan in your name or get a driver’s license with their picture and your name. More alarming is the possible effect identity theft can have on your personal security. If the thief commits illegal acts in your name, there is a possibility that the arrest warrant would be issued in your name and you could be the one arrested for acts you did not commit. Identity theft can and does have drastic and harmful effects on people’s financial and personal freedoms.
The Canadian government distinguishes between identity theft and identity fraud. Identity theft refers to the preliminary steps of collecting, possessing and trafficking in identity information for the purpose of eventual use in crimes such as personation, fraud, or misuse of debit card or credit card data. On the other hand, identity fraud is the subsequent actual deceptive use of personal identity information to commit various crimes, such as fraud, organized crime, or even terrorism.
In recognition of the many victims of identity fraud – from the person whose identity is stolen and whose credit rating and reputation may be damaged, to the financial and commercial institutions that may incur losses resulting from the use of stolen information, to the Canadian taxpayer who may be harmed when false identities are used to obtain government documents or benefits, the government amended the Criminal Code:
In January 2010, Bill S-4: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (identity theft and related misconduct), came into force. Bill S-4 created three new offences relating to the early stages of identity-related crime, all subject to a maximum five-year imprisonment (Department of Justice Canada 2010). In addition, the restitution provisions in the Criminal Code were amended to cover reasonable expenses necessary to re-establish the identity, including expenses to replace identity documents, and to correct credit history and credit ratings (Parliament of Canada 2009)
See: Justice Canada’s “Identity Related Crime: What It Is and How It Impacts Victims” [Impact of ID Theft on victims].