The recent Equifax hack has plenty of people concerned about identity theft and curious to know what steps they can take to keep their information protected.
I’ve been lucky (knock on wood) and have never had to deal with a serious case of identity theft. I have had fraudulent charges on my credit card, but that’s so common now that it almost feels like a right of passage. Those are fairly easy to deal with. In my experience, I was able to contact my credit card company and have the charges overturned within a week. That meant I was never actually out the money. I have heard fraudulent charges on debit cards can be more of a hassle. It often takes the banks longer to make the correction and refund the payment so you might find yourself strapped for cash in the meantime.
By far the worst case scenario is having your credit history impacted by fraudulent activities. Getting the credit bureaus to fix mistakes on your credit report is a huge pain, but ignoring them is worse. If you ever want to get a mortgage, a car loan, or just a new credit card, you need to have good credit. No matter how hard you to try to convince a lender that a wrong entry was fraud and not just you being bad at borrowing, you’ll end up losing the battle. Get it fixed as soon as you can and avoid problems in the future.
How is your identity stolen?
Identity theft is not merely a case of someone taking your physical credit card and going on a shopping spree. While that can happen, it’s more common that thieves will get your personal information from your mail* (either stealing it from your mailbox or digging through your trash), or by tampering with a debit/credit machine by installing a skimmer. These methods work because it’s unlikely you’ll even notice something is wrong until you see the charges.
*Sidenote: I use Grammarly to proofread my posts and found this suggested correction pretty funny. I guess they don’t think snail mail is still a thing.
As we’ve learned from recent hacks, like what happened to Equifax, your information can also be stolen if a company you deal with is the victim of hackers. Previous privacy breaches have affected consumers of WestJet, Winners/HomeSense, and even the Canada Revenue Agency.
You’ll never be able to fully protect yourself from identity theft, but there are a few preventative measures you can take.
- Set-up automatic alerts on your credit and debit cards. Most banks and credit card providers will send you text or email notifications whenever a purchase is made. This way you will know immediately if a fraudulent purchase has been processed.
- Regularly check your account statements and pull your credit report annually to check for anything that shouldn’t be there.
- If you don’t have a secured mailbox, then check it every day. Consider signing up for electronic statements whenever possible.
- Shred any documents that include your personal information.
- Keep documents like your birth certificate and SIN card locked up at home; don’t carry them around in your wallet.
- Use hard passwords for online accounts, and change them often. I’m terrible at this but am trying to be better. A password keeper app on your phone can be helpful, so you don’t need to remember them all.
- Don’t get caught by a phone or email scam. Reputable companies won’t call or email you up asking for your personal information. If you’re unsure, hang up and call them back at the helpline listed on their website to confirm.
- Make sure a website starts with ‘https’ before entering any personal information (that means it is a secure connection).
- Don’t use ATM’s (or credit card machines at gas stations) that seem sketchy. Super helpful right 😉 The safest machines (aka the ones least likely to have card skimmers) will be at your bank branch. A random ATM on a dark street isn’t going to be your safest option.
What If They Still Get You?
Even if you take all of the above precautions, there is still a chance your information could be compromised. Just look at the Equifax breach. People who have never even heard or Equifax potentially had their data stolen, and there was absolutely NOTHING they could have done to stop it. That has to be the most frustrating situation, and hopefully, stricter rules and tougher penalties will be established because of it. You know, like maybe forcing companies to publicize any breaches as soon as they happen and not five months later…just a thought.
If you are keeping a close eye on your stuff and do notice something out of whack, then you’ll want to act as quickly as possible.
If it’s a fraudulent charge on your credit or debit card, the first thing you’ll want to do is contact your provider. Let them know which charge(s) weren’t made by you and keep a note of who you talked to. That’s a good tip for anytime you do dealings over the phone; get the full name and extension of the person you’re chatting with. I’ve had positive experiences dealing with my credit card company and had incorrect charges reversed within a week. The earlier you get in touch with them the better.
Problems on your credit report will not be as easy to fix. You will need to contact the two big credit bureau’s (Equifax and TransUnion) in Canada and notify them of the fraud. They will be able to put a ‘fraud alert’ on your file. If anyone does a credit check on you, they will see the alert and know to take extra caution when verifying your identity. In the States, you can put a freeze on your credit so that no new credit will be issued, but we aren’t able to do that in Canada.
Once you’ve notified the credit bureaus and had the fraud alert implemented, you will want to report the crime. Get in touch with your local police and file a report with them, then report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. That’s not so much for you, but it does help the authorities keep track of fraud and notify the public of new scams.
Be prepared that your credit report will not be fixed overnight. It will take some time, but it will happen.
Credit card fraud and identity theft are something to be aware of but not something you should stress about. You can take measures to protect yourself without completely changing your lifestyle. Doing business online is almost essential today so feel free to shop online, use banking apps, and take advantage of electronic statements. Honestly, your information is already online (it’s practically impossible for it not to be), you might as well benefit from the convenience.
Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? How did you go about getting it fixed? And if not, what is your best tip for keeping your data safe?