You are at a restaurant and the bill arrives. You put your credit card on the tray along with the bill, and your server picks up the tray and says he will be right back. A few moments later, your card is returned. You sign your bill and put away your card.
This is a normal experience for most people. However, in those few moments when it was out of your sight, your card could have been swept through a reader that scans all the personal information on it. That's all identity thieves need to start the ball rolling. They can have the mailing address for your credit card statement and PINs changed within moments. Then they can access your credit report file, driver's licence information and all other personal information about you. This can happen to you: it has happened to millions of people.
Five signs that your identity may have
1. Bills and statements do not arrive when they are supposed to.
2. Financial account statements show withdrawals or transfers you did not make.
3. A lender calls to say you have been approved or denied credit for which you have not applied.
4. You do not get your annual insurance renewal forms or income tax forms.
5. You do not receive your quarterly property tax bill.
Steps to follow
• Act quickly and effectively. As you go through the necessary steps, remember that all communication should be in writing. Even if you call because of the urgency to notify parties, such as the credit bureaus and the bank, follow up in writing to confirm your conversations.
• Contact the police immediately. Always ask for a copy of the police report and keep it in your files. This will establish a useful paper trail that will be vital to defending yourself successfully in any court action. Keep the phone number of your investigator handy and give it to your creditors and others who require verification.
• Keep a written record. A written record of transactions, dates and conversations may be crucial later in proving you did what you say you did and when you say you did it. If a credit card company takes you to court for a bill that the identity thief incurred, it might take your written record to prove that you should not have to pay.
• Notify the major credit bureaus: Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada. When you believe you are a victim of identity theft, either bureau that you notify has an obligation to notify the other. However, notify both of the credit bureaus yourself. Do it by telephone followed up by a written notice by certified mail.
• Confirm that the fraud warning is on your credit report. Ask each credit bureau in writing to provide you with a copy of your credit report so you can see for yourself that the fraud notice is in place. It will stay on your credit report for five years. The fraud warning requires creditors to confirm your identity before extending credit.
• Keep a copy of all documents. Save all letters and copies of your credit report. It is vital evidence in any court action. Ask each of the credit bureaus for the contact information for each credit grantor that has opened accounts for your stolen identity, as well as the contact information for each credit bureau member that made credit inquiries.
• Remove unauthorized inquiries. Find out how many credit inquiries have been generated due to the fraudulent access. Ask the credit bureaus in writing that these inquiries be removed. Confirm by looking at your credit report yourself.
• Monitor new inquiries. For at least a year, order a copy of your credit report every month to monitor any new inquiries.
• In addition to names, addresses and phone numbers, thieves look for documents containing social insurance numbers, driver's licence numbers, credit card and banking information, bank cards, calling cards, birth certificates and passports.
• At home, store your birth certificate in a safe place along with other valuable documents, including your passport; shred documents after they expire.
• Review your monthly statements. Review the balances on your statements from banks, credit cards and companies regularly and report any discrepancies right away. If your bills do not arrive, or you applied for a new credit card that has not arrived, call the credit grantor immediately.
Take care while away
• If you are going to be away from home, ask a trusted neighbour to pick up your mail, or go to your local post office (with identification) and ask for their hold-mail service.
• Keep a close eye on your credit cards. Always check to see that the credit card you get back after it is used is your own.
• Be wary of giving out any personal information over the telephone unless you have placed the call yourself or know the business. Never tell anyone the password you use at the automated teller machine (ATM), and be sure no one is watching when you use an ATM.
• Do not use e-mail to send personal information. Think about creating "disposable" e-mail addresses for online purchases, masking your address or using a unique e-mail address. After completing any sort of financial transaction online, make sure you sign out of the website and clear your Internet file/cache.
Safeguard credit card information
• Do not give a credit card number or other identification information to a company that does not provide their name, business address, telephone number and e-mail address.
• Display limited personal information on your cheques.
• Pay cash when you can.
• If your wallet or computer is stolen, cancel all cards and change all passwords.
• Keep a list of all account numbers and identification documents, and emergency contact info for each one.
Who you gonna call?
• Equifax Credit Information Services, Consumer Fraud Division, 1-800-465-7166
• TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Department, 1-877-525-3823, (for residents of Quebec) 1-877-713-3393.
Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Credit & Credit Repair for Canadians (Nixon-Carre Ltd., 2005, $24.95) by Mike Morley.