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Tips for Reducing the Risk of Identity Theft

Part 2: Three key ways to reduce your risk

While you probably can’t prevent identity theft entirely, there are important steps that you can take to minimize your risk, by managing your personal information wisely and cautiously.

  1. Guard your personal information and documents.
  2. Keep your computer and its contents safe.
  3. Be vigilant.

Identity thieves get your personal information by:

  • Buying the information from a dishonest employee working where personal and/or financial information is stored.
  • Removing mail from your mailbox or fraudulently redirecting your mail.
  • Stealing personal and private information from wallets, purses, mail, your home, vehicle, computer, and Web sites you’ve visited or e-mails you’ve sent.
  • Retrieving personal information in your garbage or recycling bin by "dumpster diving".
  • Posing as a creditor, landlord or employer to get a copy of your credit report or access to your personal information from other confidential sources.
  • Tampering with automated banking machines (ABMs) and point of sale terminals, enabling thieves to read your debit or credit card number and personal identification number (PIN).
  • Searching public sources, such as newspapers (obituaries), phone books, and records open to the public (professional certifications).

1. Guard your personal information and documents

  • If any of your key documents (such as your birth certificate, driver’s licence, passport, bank card or credit card) are lost or stolen, notify the issuer immediately.
  • Shred or destroy sensitive personal documents before tossing them into the garbage or recycling. This will defeat dumpster divers looking for transaction records, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, cheques, financial statements and old income tax returns.
  • Beware of mail, phone or Internet promotions that ask for personal information. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your information.
  • Cut up expired and unused credit and debit cards. The card may have expired but the number may still be valid. •
  • Lock your household mailbox if possible. If you are going to be away, arrange for a trusted neighbour to pick up your mail. You can also go to your local post office (with identification) and ask for Canada Post’s hold mail service. There will be a charge for this service.
  • If you use ABMs or point-of-sale terminals, always shield the entry of your PIN, and never give your access code (PIN) to anyone. Choose a PIN that can’t be figured out easily, as you could be liable if you use a PIN combination selected from your name, telephone number, date of birth, address or Social Insurance Number (SIN). Remember that no one from a financial institution or the police will ask you for your PIN.
  • Don’t leave personal information lying around at home, in your vehicle or at the office.
  • Keep your birth certificate, passport and social insurance card in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box at your financial institution, when you're not actually using them. Other important papers, such as diplomas and degrees, marriage certificates, insurance policies, tax returns, wills, stocks, bonds and term deposits would also be safer in the safety deposit box, rather than in a file cabinet at home.
  • Find out how your employer makes sure your personal information is private. How do they store and dispose of it? Who can see it?
  • Don’t give personal information to anyone who phones or e-mails you unless you know who they are or can confirm that the person is from a legitimate company. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of financial institutions, Internet service providers and even government agencies to get you to reveal identifying information.
  • Don’t put more than your name and address on your personal cheques.
  • Carry only the documents and cards you will need that day. You rarely need to carry your birth certificate, SIN card or passport.
  • When you receive a renewal or replacement for a document or certificate that contains identity information (such as your driver’s licence or vehicle registration), make sure you return or destroy the old one.

2. Keep your computer and its contents safe

Computer technology makes it easier for criminals to find personal and financial information. If you keep credit card numbers, account numbers, and tax information in your system or use e-mail to do financial business, take steps to make sure that this information is safe from hackers and thieves. The following measures can help protect against identity theft on-line.

  • Protect your computer, including laptops, with a startup password that is a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. Don’t use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password.
  • Use a personal firewall, especially if you use an "always connected/ always on" Internet connection, even if your computer is turned off. The firewall stops uninvited visitors from getting access to your information in the computer.
  • Disable file-sharing software to prevent unauthorized access to your computer and its data.
  • Install virus protection software and be sure to update it regularly. Viruses can damage your data and instruct your computer to send information to other systems without your knowledge.
  • Be careful what you open. E-mails from strangers could contain viruses or programs to hijack your Internet connection or damage your computer.
  • Don’t send personal or confidential information over e-mail. E-mail messages are not secure.
  • Even though you’ve deleted files from folders, remnants may still be on the computer’s hard drive, where they may be easily retrieved. Make sure personal information is really deleted before you sell, recycle or discard your computer. Use a secure hard drive overwrite utility to reduce the risk that others could recover your data.

Shop and bank safely online:

  • Before giving your credit card number or other financial information to a business, make sure that the merchant has a secure transaction system. Most Internet browsers indicate when you are using a secure Internet link. To check to see if a Web site is secure look for:
    • A Web site address that starts with https://, or
    • An icon, often a lock or an unbroken key, at the bottom right corner of the screen or in the address bar of your browser.
  • Fake or "spoof" Web sites are designed to trick consumers and collect their personal information. Be cautious when clicking on a link or an unknown Web site or unfamiliar e-mail. The link may take you to a fraudulent site.
  • After completing a financial transaction or on-line banking, make sure you sign out of the Web site and clear your internet file/caches (internet files are retained in your computer automatically and thus should be cleared so that hackers can not obtain the information). Most financial institutions provide instructions on how to clear the caches under their "security" section.
  • Companies may also display a seal on their Web site to assure online customers that their business has the ability to maintain privacy and security for Internet transactions. Check to see which organization is awarding the seal and what requirements a merchant has to meet to display the seal.
  • Prior to submitting any personal information to an Internet Web site, review the Web site privacy policy for an understanding of how your information may be used.
  • Use a credit card not a debit card to buy online, or set aside one credit card with a low limit for Internet buying.

3. Be vigilant

Paying attention to details can make a difference.

Once a year, get a copy of your credit report from a major credit reporting agency (credit bureau). The report tells you what information the bureau has about your credit history, financial information, any judgments, collection activity and who has asked for your information.

You can call:

  • Equifax Canada at 1-800-465-7166
  • Trans Union Canada at 1-866-525-0262 (Quebec Residents: 1-877-713-3393)
  • Northern Credit Office 1-613-260-5826

You may also visit their Web sites at Equifax Canada, Trans Union Canada and Northern Credit Office.

By checking, you can spot debts that aren’t yours and see who has been asking about you. You need to follow up if a lender or credit card issuer has asked for a report and you don’t have an account with them and haven’t applied for credit or a card from them. Someone else may have been using your name.

If you discover incorrect information in your credit report, Manitoba's Personal Investigations Act gives you the right to have that information corrected. See Manitoba legislation for more details.

  • Know when your credit card and financial statements and utility bills are due. If they don’t arrive when they are supposed to, call the company – an ID thief may have changed the billing address.
  • Pay attention to credit card expiry dates. If the replacement card hasn’t arrived call the company. Someone may have taken it from the mail or changed the mailing address.
  • Keep credit card, debit card and automatic banking machine (ABM) transaction records so you can match them to your statements.
  • Be wary of phone, mail or Internet promotions that want your personal information. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal information.
  • Review your bank and credit card statements promptly and report any discrepancies to your financial institution right away. In Manitoba you are responsible for the first $50 charged when a credit card is lost or stolen or if a debt has been incurred through unauthorized use of your credit card information. See Manitoba legislation for more details.
  • Keep a list of the names, account numbers and the expiration dates of your cards in a secure place. This will help you when alerting your credit grantors about a lost or stolen card.
  • A cardholder can be liable for losses associated with debit card transactions if they have contributed to the unauthorized use of the card. However, the loss will not exceed the established debit card transaction withdrawal limits. For more information, visit Office of Consumer Affairs – Debit Card Fraud
  • Memorize all passwords and personal identification numbers. If you must write them down, ensure that they are well disguised, for example, by re-arranging the numerals or substituting other numerals or symbols and by keeping it within a record of other information, such as a telephone list.
  • Protect your PIN when entering it into a keypad, like when you make a purchase at a retailer or restaurant and when you use an ATM.