Identity Theft

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is defined as using another person's personal or financial information in order to commit a variety of frauds, like credit or debit card fraud.

How do identity thieves work?

There are a variety of ways your personal information can get into the wrong hands. Identity thieves can get your personal information by stealing your mail, sifting through your garbage looking for improperly destroyed personal documents or stealing from company or government databases. 

How damaging is identity theft?

  • In 2002, the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus (CCBBB) estimated that consumers, banks, credit card firms, stores and other businesses lost $2.5 billion to identity theft.
  • According to The Government of Canada, payment card fraud is a major component of identity theft.  Phonebusters reported that over 42 per cent of all cases of identity theft were related to payment card fraud.
  • According to identity theft experts Brent MacLean and Det. Sgt Barry Elliott it can take months for someone to recover their credit and restore their identity after is has been stolen.
  • In 2003, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reported that victims of identity theft spend an average of $500 to recover their stolen identities and restore credit ratings.

How common is identity theft?

  • According to CISC identity theft is a significant threat to Canadian consumers and businesses. 
  • Identity theft is the largest crime that affects consumers in Canada.
  • According to PhoneBusters, in 2005 there were 12,119 identity theft victims in Canada who lost a total of $9-million.
  • Between 2002-present, PhoneBusters has reported an excess of 60,000 victims who are associated with a $100-million loss.
  • In 2005, a total of 4729 Ontarians became victims of identity theft. Their losses totaled $4.4-million.
  • On a positive note, the number of victims is flat lining at about 12-thousand victims per year in Canada.  PhoneBusters reports that there is also a significant reduction in the average dollar loss per victim as a result of financial institutions and credit bureaus of doing a better job of increasing security measures.

Can identity theft be prevented?

Identity theft cannot be prevented entirely, but here are some ways to guard your personal identity.

  • Before you reveal any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles.  Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. 
  • Guard your mail.  Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office.  Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery.  Ensure mail is forwarded or re-routed if you move or change your mailing address.
  • Utilize passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts.  Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SIN or your phone number.
  • Minimize the identification information and  number of cards you carry.
  • Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the internet unless you have initiated the contact or know whom you're dealing with.
  • Give your SIN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.  
  • Don't carry your SIN card; leave it in a secure place
  • Buy a paper shredder and use it for any personal information you are throwing away. Anything with your name, credit card number, or other identifying factor can be stolen by thieves rummaging through your trash.
  • Shred credit card applications mailed to you with your personal information already filled in. These can easily be used by thieves to open accounts in your name.

ID Theft Information Links

Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

Consumer Protection Ontario