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March 16, 2021

Identity Theft — Lesson Learned

by Jane Thrall

A few years back I was the victim of identity fraud. Someone applied for a credit card in my name and the bank — not mine — issued the card. The credit reporting agency, meant to protect the public and lenders from this sort of fraud, had dropped the ball; the application didn’t have the correct birthdate and the signature wasn’t even close.

Fortunately, I discovered that the card had been issued and notified the bank. Despite my efforts, the criminals managed to charge $50,000 to the account before the card was terminated. The bank sent it to collections and the collection agency hounded me for two years before I convinced them that they weren’t going to see a penny from me. It was a terrible ordeal.

Aisha Kitchlew, Senior Manager in Fraud and Cybercrime for ATB, says, “The best defence against a fraud incident is education — understanding and knowing what you are up against will allow you to consider what controls are best suited for you or your business.”

The terms “identity theft” and “identity fraud” are often used interchangeably. While identity theft is the act of obtaining a person’s personal information, fraud is the crime of using that information to obtain goods or services. Identity fraud is on the rise in Canada, doubling over the past five years alone.

Source: StatCan, Oct. 24, 2020,

The most common form of identity theft is credit card cloning. This is often done through skimming, either by someone unknowingly inserting the card into a skimming device that’s been attached to a legitimate machine (at an ATM or gas pump, for example) or by a nefarious employee who skims the card while it’s out of sight.

Another way that personal information can be gleaned is through phishing or the use of malware. Criminals will send an email requesting personal information in order to claim a prize or verify a purchase. Most email programs will identify these as scams, but a person has to be very cautious of any request to send information to a business, even if it’s one that they deal with regularly. If the email looks suspicious, it’s best to contact the company directly to verify.

Aisha says that you should never give your Social Insurance Number (SIN) to anyone over the phone without validating the caller. You can do this by visiting their website and calling back at a validated phone number before continuing the conversation.

She suggests only carrying bank cards that you need or use on a regular basis and be sure to sign your cards immediately after receiving them. Don’t write down your personal identification numbers (PINs) and don’t carry sensitive personal information with you, such as your SIN or your birth certificate.

Old-fashioned mail theft and dumpster diving are also used to steal personal information, so be sure to shred personal documents before throwing them out. If a card arrives in the mail that you didn’t apply for, contact the issuing company immediately.

Many businesses, including your employer, rental company, bank, and creditors, are in possession of valuable personal data. As a rule, your information is safe with them, but security breaches can cause it to fall into the wrong hands.

Equifax, one of Canada’s two credit reporting agencies, was hacked in 2017 and at least 100,000 Canadians had their personal information stolen. Other companies have experienced similar breaches, including Lifelabs, Desjardins Group, and Capital One. Firms that have had this sort of breach will usually notify their customers and offer assistance.

If you believe that you’ve been the victim of identity theft, immediately inform the police and cancel any lost or stolen documents. Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to let them know your personal information has been compromised.

Most importantly, get in touch with Equifax and TransUnion and request a credit statement. These are the two companies in Canada that track your credit and will have information on any new credit cards, mortgages, or car loans in your name. You’ll want to make sure they have the correct address on file for you, as the fraudsters may have had it changed.

Both TransUnion and Equifax will provide a free credit report to consumers on request. This can be done online or by phone or mail; visit their websites for more information. They also offer paid products such as your credit score or ongoing credit monitoring.

Aisha says that it’s important to check your credit report regularly or set up a credit alert service that will notify you if any activity or changes have been made to your credit report.

After my experience with identity fraud, I’ve kept close tabs on my personal information and taken extra measures to protect myself. Staying on top of your credit is the best way to assure that your identity is secure. The first sign that you’ve been a victim of identity theft may be too late.

Jane Thrall is retired and happily enjoying her fraud-protected life. She spends her spare time golfing, hiking, and reviewing her bank statements.