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Identity theft on the rise: Canadians uncertain about the warning signs and left unprotected

52% of Canadians are unable to identify all of the warning signs that someone has stolen their personal information for the purposes of identity theft

September 21, 2020  by CM Staff

Photo: iStock

ST. JOHN’S, Nfld. — As instances of fraud and identity theft have been on the rise in the wake of COVID-19, Canadians are equally split on knowing how to spot it. According to a recent survey commissioned by Johnson Insurance, a property and casualty insurer which offers identity theft protection, 52% of Canadians are unable to identify all of the warning signs that they have become a victim of identity theft, when provided with a list of the signs.

According to the survey, 27% of Canadians have noticed an increase in suspicious COVID-19-related activity on fraudulent websites and online advertisements, as well as increased suspicious emails (23%), and text messages or phone calls (20%).

“COVID-19 has created new avenues for identity theft — including applications for the CERB in the name of an identity theft victim,” said Alex Rafuse, vice-president, home & auto, Johnson Insurance, in a prepared statement. “With more people working from home during the pandemic — answering home phone calls or disposing of personal and work-related documents in residential recycling bins — there is a higher than normal susceptibility to fraud.”

According to the survey, Canadians are most familiar with the direct, financial warning signs of identity theft, such as withdrawals or charges on their accounts that they can’t explain (36% of respondents identified this as a warning sign) and receiving bills for services they did not use (33%). However, Canadians are least familiar with the more indirect warning signs:

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  • A health plan that won’t cover them because their medical records show a condition they don’t have (11%) or show they have reached their benefit limit (12%);
  • Not receiving expected bills or other mail (14%);
  • A creditor contacts them to approve or deny credit they did not apply for (25%).

“There are many ways that fraudsters can use personal information, beyond taking money from someone’s account, including applying for loans, renting an apartment or car, or committing crimes using false information,” said Rafuse.

Protection through Prevention

The first line of defense against identity theft is prevention. Canadians can take steps to help protect themselves from identity theft with some of the following tips:

Online

  • Use secure passwords that include a combination of capital letters, common letters, numbers, and symbols; use different passwords for all of your accounts, and change them often.
  • Be wary of unsolicited emails that ask you to follow links, login to accounts, or provide personal information.

On the Phone

  • Never provide personal information over the telephone unless you initiate the call, and never provide information via text message to an unknown sender.
  • If asked to call someone back, call the organization the person claims to belong to and confirm that the person works for them, and that the phone number is legitimate.

Around the Home

  • Avoid keeping a written record of your bank account, PIN number(s), social insurance number or card, and computer password(s) out in the open in your home. Additionally, never keep that information in a wallet or handbag.
  • Remove mail from the mailbox immediately or keep the mailbox locked, and shred or destroy all personal or sensitive documents before placing in the recycling bin.

“Remember that calls, texts and emails that are threatening, have an undue sense of urgency to them, or seem too good to be true, are likely to be scams,” said Rafuse. “We anticipate that newer methods of collecting personal information — such as those targeting Canadians applying for government assistance programs — will continue to trend upward, so it’s important to stay alert.”