Canadians treasure their identities. It's who they are, what they've worked for and achieved, the essence of their reputations. Having it stolen can be financially as well as psychologically devastating.
Identity thieves often use personal information such as a person's name, address and social insurance number to open credit card accounts, buy cars, rent apartments or even engage in criminal activity.
Equifax, one of the world's leading consumer and business credit ratings and data collection companies, sees the consequences of identity theft every day.
John Russo, vice-president, legal counsel and chief privacy officer at Equifax Canada, says that for most victims, recovering from identity theft is a long and difficult process.
"Rehabilitating a stolen identity can take months or even years," he says. "It's a long and complicated process, involving law enforcement agencies, credit bureaus, the companies that sold products or services to the identity thief and anyone else who may have been touched by the thief's actions."
While personal carelessness can lead to identity theft, the increased incidence of data breaches, over which individuals have no control, is adding to the risk.
Mr. Russo points out that such data breaches are now "a fact of life" in Canada, with serious consequences. He says that about one in four Canadians whose personal information is compromised through of a data breach subsequently becomes a victim of fraud. As a result, people are increasingly attracted to businesses that protect their privacy.
"Businesses should have tools in place to ensure the identity of the person they are dealing with and not some fraudster impersonating him," he says.
Mr. Russo advises people whose identity may have been compromised to take three immediate steps:
Contact the police and file an affidavit.
Contact the institution where they've been compromised and let it know, so that an investigation can begin.
Contact both credit bureaus in Canada, Equifax and Trans-Union, which can monitor any suspicious activity in a person's name.
Tara Zecevic, Equifax's vice president of technology solutions, says that although identity theft involving individuals is in the headlines, companies are often victims, and in most cases they have little chance of recovering.
"Individuals are not typically responsible for a debt incurred in their name by an identity thief," she says. "However, businesses generally have a tough time recovering their financial losses and will often simply write them off as a cost of doing business, which of course pushes up the cost of goods and services for all consumers."
Ms. Zecevic adds that businesses can protect their interests by using multiple layers of defence, including carrying our careful identity verification and authentication of personal data.
For individuals, organizations such as Equifax also offer identity theft insurance, which can cover costs such as legal fees and lost earnings as a result of taking time off work to rehabilitate an identity.
Ms. Zecevic says the best defence by far is for people to protect their personal information, particularly online. They should immediately report the loss of any documents, cheque books or credit cards, as well as report any online activity that may have compromised their identity.
Fraudsters who abuse financial services "constantly changing their tactics"
Western Union's money transfer service allows consumers to send money quickly and conveniently to friends and loved ones, whether it's around the corner or around the world, via half a million locations in 200 countries and territories.
But the service is not intended for use when doing business with someone you don't know, the company warns.
Western Union cautions customers to never send money to people they have not met in person, and to review fraud-related material at an agent location or on the consumer protection section of the company's website if they are in doubt about whether to engage in a transaction.
Some common scams have been around for years, such as pleas for a grandparent to send money for an "emergency" to someone posing as a grandchild, or requests to transfer funds to secure a job. But the increasing use of the Internet for business and social activities such as purchases and romantic relationship-building means that people are also at risk of becoming victims of online fraud.
"It's a sad fact that the criminals who seek to abuse financial services are constantly changing their tactics," says Derek McMillan, vice president of consumer protection compliance at Western Union. "For that reason, we continuously review our consumer protection program and adjust its controls to respond to evolving and emerging trends, much like law enforcement must do when confronting sophisticated and organized criminals."
Mr. McMillan says that a common mistake that many people make is sharing personal information on social media, which may unwittingly give fraudsters a head-start in building a scheme.
"For example, with the emergency or grandparent scam, con artists might use the information they find in social media to supply enough personal detail to make their requests appear legitimate," he says.
The proliferation of online dating sites provides additional targets for fraudsters aiming at people from specific ethnic backgrounds or demographic groups, Mr. McMillan says.
Another scam involves creating a website that purports to represent a legitimate charity and asking for donations.
"People should never send money to an individual for a charity," he says. "It's best always to donate to a charity directly after confirming its legitimacy, rather than giving in response to a phone call or by clicking an email link."
Awareness and education are the best defence against scams, Mr. McMillan stresses, noting that education is an important component of Western Union's consumer protection program.
"Helping consumers avoid fraud in the first place will go a long way towards addressing the problem," he adds.
|BY THE NUMBERS|
44,367 Complaints of mass marketing fraud received by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) in 2013
$52.7 million Mass marketing fraud losses reported to the CAFC in 2013
40,000 Average number of email messages of complaint about fraud sent monthly to the CAFC
3,711 Identity thefts reported to the CAFC in 2013
19,504 Identity fraud reported to the CFAC in 2013
14% Increase in the number of reported Canadian victims of identity fraud in 2013 over 2012
Source: Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
Canadian Securities Administrators
Securities regulators from each province and territory have teamed up to form the Canadian Securities Administrators, or CSA for short. The CSA is primarily responsible for developing a harmonized approach to securities regulation across the country.