Identity Theft - Canada


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Identity Theft - Canada

  2. 2. I t can happen to anyone. The phone rings and a collection agency demands that you pay past-due accounts for goods you never ordered. Canada Revenue advises you that you owe back taxes for a job you’ve never had. You are denied life insurance because your medical records show you have been treated for a serious medical condition which you’ve never had. What has happened? The crime of identity theft is on the rise†. Using a variety of methods, criminals steal Social Insurance Numbers, driver’s licenses, credit card numbers, debit cards, telephone calling cards, and other pieces of individuals’ identities such as date of birth. Since thieves prey on those who have not taken preventative measures, it is up to you to be careful with all of your identification and financial information. For maximum security, make safety a family affair. Limit and monitor children’s access to the Internet and online transactions, have a designated person collect the mail, and establish guidelines for when telemarketers call and ask for information. If you have children, you can—and should—safeguard their identity as well as your own. Some companies have mistakenly sent pre-approved offers for credit to those too young to actually have a credit card. Once your child has received one offer, he or she may very well receive others. Monitor the mail carefully and check your child’s credit report. Unfortunately, even when you have done all the right things, you may still be a victim of identity theft. While consumer protection laws give you rights, it is your responsibility to take action if fraudulent activity occurs. If someone has used your identity or financial information, it is imperative that you act swiftly and treat the matter seriously. This means, in many cases, dedicating time to letter writing, telephone calls, credit report monitoring, follow-up, and log keeping. Turning from victim to victor takes effort. (†for survey data, visit What Is Identity Theft? Identity theft or identity fraud is the taking of the victim’s identity, for either gain, or to cause loss. In Canada, identity theft or identity fraud are not currently criminal offences—that is to say those specific offences are not included in the Criminal Code of Canada. Instead, various elements of what is commonly known as identity theft or identity fraud are prohibited through sections of the Criminal Code that deal with fraud, false pretences, theft, possession of property obtained by crime, etc. For the purposes of this booklet all of the elements that make up Identity Theft will simply be referred to as Identity Theft. Identity Theft is often committed to obtain credit, credit cards from banks and retailers, steal money from the victim’s existing accounts, apply for loans, establish accounts with utility companies, rent an apartment, file bankruptcy or obtain a job using the victim’s name. The impersonator steals thousands of dollars in the victim’s name without the victim even knowing about it for months or even years. Identity theft, however, does not always directly involve the fraudulent obtaining of cash or credit. Criminals use victims’ identities to commit crimes ranging from traffic infractions to felonies. They use victims’ identities to obtain medical treatment (through fraudulently obtained provincial health cards). Identity theft can be used as a form of revenge or punishment. In fact, in the United States, more than 70% of identity theft occurrences are non-credit-related. Identity theft can be divided into 5 basic types: 1. Identification (driver’s license, passport, etc.); 2. Medical information; 3. Character or criminal identity; 4. Social Insurance Number; 5. Credit identity. 1
  3. 3. Where Does The Impersonator Get Information About You? Lots of places—your doctor, accountant, lawyer, dentist, school, place of work, health insurance carrier, and many others have your identifying information. If some criminally minded person is working at the office (or just visiting) and decides to use this information to assume your identity, you would not know it. Thieves can do much damage with what they remove from your mailbox. You do not need to lose your wallet or have anything tangible stolen from you for someone to take your identity. If you do not shred your confidential information, utility bills, credit card slips and other documents, it is easy to “dumpster dive” your garbage. Much of your information is readily available on the internet, at courts, and accessible from public documents. Additionally, if someone obtains your credit report illegally, they have all the information necessary to become you. • Stealing wallets allows identity thieves obtained SINs, driver’s licenses, credit card numbers and other pieces of identification. • “Dumpster diving” in trash bins for unshredded credit card and loan applications and documents containing SINs. • Stealing mail from unlocked mailboxes to obtain newly issued credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, investment reports, insurance statements, benefits documents, or tax information. Unfortunately, even locked mailboxes may not stop the most determined thief. • Accessing your credit report fraudulently, for example, by posing as an employer, loan officer, or landlord. • Obtaining names and SINs from personnel or customer files in the workplace. • “Shoulder surfing” at ATM machines and phone booths in order to capture PIN numbers. • Finding identifying information on internet sources, via public records sites and fee-based information broker sites. • Sending e-mail messages that look like they are from your bank, asking you to visit a web site that looks like the bank’s in order to confirm account information. This is called “phishing”. (Visit www.antiphishing. org) • The theft of laptop computers and computer media as well as hacking into web sites can reveal enough information for a thief to assume your provincial health plan identity. (In fact, OHIP estimates there are currently 300,000 more OHIP cards currently in circulation than there are residents of Ontario.) How can you stop the fraud? As soon as you are made aware of the fraud (usually a creditor will contact you or you will be denied credit, or you will see charges that are not yours on bills) you must immediately contact the credit reporting agencies by phone and letter to put a fraud alert on your credit profile. Get copies of the reports so that you will know which are the fraud accounts, and call the police. You may not be able to stop the fraud immediately. It is very complex. But this will get you started. Once you have learned all the facts of your case, write a 100-word statement explaining the situation and have that paragraph added to your credit profile. Should you cancel all your credit cards even if they have not been invaded by the imposter— just to be safe? No. Since your credit worthiness is shaky due to the fraud, you will probably have a hard time getting new credit in the near future. If you have stopped your credit, you may have trouble getting loans, a rental car, or even a job. Instead, immediately notify each credit grantor of your true accounts, that you are a victim of identity fraud. Set up a new password. Put a fraud alert on these accounts and tell the bank that they are not to change your address without verification from you in writing from your present address. Do not use a password with your birth date, mother’s maiden name, or any of your present identifiers—not even your pet’s name. Make up a password that you can remember, but that cannot easily be guessed at. (See Passwords and PINS on page 4). You’ll have to make a personal decision whether to use the same one for all accounts so you do not get confused, or whether to use a different password for each account. One one hand, using the same password means that if someone discovers it, they’ll have the password for all of your accounts. On the other hand, you have already reported an identity theft—if you forget one of your passwords you will have a very hard time gaining access to that account again. 2
  4. 4. What if the information in my credit report is wrong? You can dispute inaccurate information with the credit bureaus. In Canada, there are two credit bureaus. These are: Equifax Canada • 1-800-465-7166 TransUnion of Canada • 1-800-663-9980 These are governed by provincial legislation. They have fraud victim assistance specialists who advise on the steps that need to be taken with respect to your credit file. Although not foolproof, these steps will help to decrease any further impact on your life as a result of fraudulent actions taken by imposters. Note that as a precautionary measure, even if you have not been a victim of identity theft, it is always a good practice to annually request copies of your credit reports from all three, to check for possible errors or inaccuracies—you have this right under provincial law. You are entitled to a free copy of your current credit report upon request and it must be supplied to you within a reasonable time period...customarily 30 days. If you tell a credit bureau that your file contains inaccurate information, the credit bureau must investigate the items (usually within 30 days). 3
  5. 5. PROTECT YOURSELF FROM IDENTITY THEFT! You cannot prevent identity theft. Criminals can commit identity theft relatively easily because of lax credit industry practices, careless information-handling practices in the workplace, and the ease of obtaining SINs. But you can reduce your risk of fraud by following the tips outlined below. The most important advice we can give you is to check your credit report at least once a year. If you are a victim of identity theft, you will catch it early by checking your credit report regularly. Credit Cards, Debit Cards, And Credit Reports: • Reduce the number of credit and debit cards you carry in your wallet. We recommend that you do not use debit cards because of the potential for losses to your chequing account. Instead, carry one or two credit cards in your wallet. Nonetheless, debit cards are popular. If you do use them, take advantage of online access to your bank account to monitor account activity frequently. Report evidence of fraud to your financial institution immediately. • When using your credit and debit cards at restaurants and stores, pay close attention to how the magnetic stripe information is swiped by the waiter or clerk. Dishonest employees have been known to use small handheld devices called skimmers to quickly swipe the card and then later download the account number data onto a personal computer. The thief uses the account data for internet shopping and/or the creation of counterfeit cards. • Do not use debit cards when shopping online. Use a credit card because you are better protected in case of fraud. • Keep a list or photocopy of all your credit cards, debit cards, bank accounts, and investments—the account numbers, expiration dates and telephone numbers of the customer service and fraud departments—in a secure place (not your wallet or purse) so you can quickly contact these companies in case your credit cards have been stolen or accounts are being used fraudulently. • Never give out your SIN, credit or debit card number or other personal information over the phone, by mail, or on the internet unless you have a trusted business relationship with the company and you have initiated the call. Identity thieves have been known to call their victims with a fake story that goes something like this, “Today is your lucky day! You have been chosen by the Publishers Consolidated Sweepstakes to receive a free trip to the Bahamas. All we need is your Social Insurance Number, credit card number and expiration date to verify you as the lucky winner.” • Always take credit card receipts with you. Never toss them in a public trash container. When shopping, put receipts in your wallet rather than in the shopping bag. • Never permit your credit card number to be written onto your cheques. It puts you at risk for fraud. • Watch the mail when you expect a new or reissued credit card to arrive. Contact the issuer if the card does not arrive. • Order your credit report at least once a year. The credit bureaus operating in Canada are Equifax (1-800465-7166) and TransUnion (1-800-663-9980). If you are a victim of identity theft, your credit report will contain the tell-tale signs—inquiries that were not generated by you, as well as credit accounts that you did not open. The earlier you detect fraud, the easier and quicker it will be to clean up your credit files and regain your financial health. We recommend that you stagger your requests—obtain a credit report from one company, 4 months later from the next company, and finally 4 months later from the third company. That way, you can monitor your credit reports on an ongoing basis, every 4 months, year-round. We do not endorse credit monitoring services because we believe that individuals should not have to pay a fee to track their credit. If you decide to subscribe, be sure to choose a service that monitors both credit reports on an ongoing basis. You can create your own credit monitoring strategy at no cost by ordering one of your free credit reports every four months, as explained above. For more information about monitoring services, visit Another source for comparative information is (No endorsement is implied for either.) Another service, and one that we do endorse, is IdentyTheft Shield Canada. More information about the services they offer can be found at Passwords and PINS: • When creating passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers), do not use the last four digits of your Social Insurance Number, mother’s maiden name, your birth date, middle name, pet’s name, consecutive 4
  6. 6. numbers or anything else that could easily be discovered by thieves. It’s best to create passwords that combine letters and numbers. Here’s a tip to create a password that is strong and easy to remember. Think of a favorite line of poetry, like “Mary had a little lamb.” Use the first or last letters to create a password. Use numbers to make it stronger. For example, MHALL, or better yet MHA2L. The longer the string, the harder it is to crack. • Ask your financial institutions to add extra security protection to your account. Most will allow you to use an additional code or password (a number or word) when accessing your account. Do not use your mother’s maiden name, SIN, or date or birth, as these are easily obtained by identity thieves. If asked to create a reminder question, do not use one that is easily answered by others. • Memorize all your passwords. Don’t record them on anything in your wallet. • Shield your hand when using a bank ATM machine or making long distance phone calls with your phone card. “Shoulder surfers” may be nearby with binoculars or video camera. Social Insurance Numbers: • Protect your Social Insurance Number (SIN). Release it only when absolutely necessary (like tax forms, employment records, most banking, stock and property transactions). The SIN is the key to your credit and banking accounts and is the prime target of criminals. If a business requests your SIN, ask if it has an alternative number that can be used instead. Speak to a manager or supervisor if your request is not honored. Ask to see the company’s written policy on SINs. If necessary, take your business elsewhere. If the SIN is requested by a government agency, look for the Privacy Act notice. This will tell you if your SIN is required, what will be done with it, and what happens if you refuse to provide it. If possible, do not provide the SIN on job applications. Offer to provide it when you are interviewed or when a background check is conducted. • Do not have your SIN or driver’s license number printed on your cheques. Don’t let merchants handwrite the SIN onto your cheques because of the risk of fraud. • Do not say your SIN out loud when you are in a public place. And do not let merchants, health care providers, or others say your SIN out loud. Whisper or write it down on a piece of paper instead. Be sure to retrieve and shred that paper. • Do not carry your SIN card in your wallet except for situations when it is required, the first day on the job, for example. If possible, do not carry wallet cards that display the SIN, such as insurance cards, except when needed to receive health care services. Health card Numbers: • Safeguard your Health Card number while at a hospital or your doctor’s office. If staff clip your card to your file/folder, insist that it not be left in a place accessible to the public. • While the theft of your Health number might not immediately cause you financial hardship, someone else using your number to obtain treatment for a serious medical condition may affect your ability to obtain life, health or disability insurance in the future. The fraudulent use of Health Cards drives the number of tax dollars spent on health care up. You may not pay today, but you will tomorrow when it’s tax time. Internet and computer safeguards: • Install a firewall on your home computer to prevent hackers from obtaining personal identifying and financial data from your hard drive. This is especially important if you connect to the Internet by DSL or cable modem. • Install and update virus protection software to prevent a worm or virus from causing your computer to send out files or other stored information. • Password-protect files that contain sensitive personal data, such as financial account information. Create passwords that combine 6-8 numbers and letters, upper and lower case. In addition, encrypt sensitive files. • When shopping online, do business with companies that provide transaction security protection, and that have strong privacy and security policies. • Before disposing of your computer, remove data by using a strong “wipe” utility program. Do not rely on the “delete” function to remove files containing sensitive information. Never respond to “phishing” e-mail messages. These appear to be from your bank, eBay, or PayPal. They instruct you to visit their web site, which looks just like the real thing. There, you are told to confirm your account information, provide 5
  7. 7. your SIN, date of birth and other personal information. Legitimate financial companies never e-mail their customers with such requests. These messages are the work of fraudsters attempting to obtain personal information in order to commit identity theft. Visit • Be aware that file-sharing and file-swapping programs expose your computer to illegitimate access by hackers and fraudsters. If you use such programs, make sure you comply with the law and know what you are doing. Install and update strong firewall and virus protection. Many file-sharing programs are downloaded by youngsters without the knowledge of their parents. There are software programs available that identify file sharing software and locate shared files on home computers. For more information on safe surfing for families, visit Home Paper Shredders Home paper shredders have given the private citizen the ability to shred sensitive documents. Often some of the monetary loss from Identity Theft is borne by the financial institution concerned, once it is established that you are a victim of identity theft. But financial loss is not the only outcome of having your identity stolen. It can sometimes take years for you to clear your name. Using a Home Paper Shredder is One Way to Prevent Identity Theft. Be very careful about the information about yourself that you throw in the trash. Thieves do hunt through your trash, at your home or at public trash dumps looking for items of information. Think of all the pieces of paper that are likely to be around your home and the information they contain: credit card bills, electric, gas, water, phone, Internet, cable television bills, ATM receipts, bank statements, pay check stubs, credit reports, canceled cheques, investment documents, tax forms, expired drivers licenses, employment records, preapproved credit applications, ID cards, medical records, dental records, expired passports. All these, and more, contain information that identity thieves would love to get their hands on. You will also not want to throw out, without first running them through your home paper shredder: receipts showing checking account numbers, any paper showing your Social Insurance Number, documents containing your signature, documents concerning stock, bonds or property transactions. Rummaging through your trash is not the only way criminals can obtain the information they need to clone you—but it is one method they use. It makes sense to shred all sensitive documents that you throw out. Which type of home paper shredder should you consider? It is worthwhile spending a little time thinking which type of home paper shredder will best suit your needs. Shredders are reasonably priced these days but there are considerations other than cost: • Strip Cut Shredders—Strip cut shredders are generally the lowest priced but, as their name suggests, these machines shred paper in to strips. It should be kept in mind that it is possible for a criminal to piece together the strips and recreate the document, time consuming but can be done. Depending on how the paper is fed into the shredder a whole sentence may be on one strip. To make it more difficult to reconstruct a shredded document you can shred three or four insignificant papers along with the sensitive one. This does not, of course, make reconstruction impossible. • Cross Cut Shredders—These shredding machines cut the paper both ways creating very small, squares or diamonds. Needless to say, these confetti pieces are extremely difficult to put back together. The time that it would take the thief is probably more than he would consider worthwhile for a personal document. Thus a cross cut home paper shredder would be the better investment. There are other types of shredder, some pound paper through a small gage mesh others grind the paper up until it is small enough to pass through a screen. But these machines are more than the typical home user needs. Capacity and Speed—You will probably find the ability to shred six or so sheets at the same time useful but, unless you are running a home business, more than that is not necessary. The same with capacity, a home paper shredder need not be too large. Some shredders cut out, in order to cool off, after shredding a certain number of documents. Again this should not be a problem for the home user. 6 Paper shredders were once quite costly pieces of equipment and only used in offices. Home paper shredders have given the private citizen the ability to shred sensitive documents, and with the rise of identity theft that
  8. 8. is a very good thing. Other ways of reducing access to your personal data: • To minimize the amount of information a thief can steal, do not carry extra credit cards, debit cards, your Social Insurance card, birth certificate or passport in your wallet or purse, except when needed. At work, store your wallet in a safe place. • If possible, do not carry other cards in your wallet that contain the Social Insurance Number (SIN), except on days when you need them. • To reduce the amount of personal information that is “out there”, remove your name from the credit reporting bureaus’ marketing lists. This will limit the number of pre-approved offers of credit that you receive. These, when tossed into the garbage, are a potential target of identity thieves who use them to order credit cards in your name. • Install a locked mailbox at your residence to deter mail theft. Or use a post office box or a commercial mailbox service. When you are away from home for an extended time, have your mail held at the Post Office, or ask a trusted neighbor to pick it up. • When ordering new cheques, pick them up at the bank. Don’t have them mailed to your home. If you have a post office box, use that address on your cheques rather than your home address so thieves will not know where you live. • When you pay bills, do not leave the envelopes containing your cheques in open boxes at the receptionist’s desk in your workplace. If stolen, your cheques can be altered and then cashed by the imposter. It is best to mail bills and other sensitive items at the drop boxes inside the post office rather than neighborhood drop boxes. If you use a neighborhood drop box, always deposit the mail before the last pick-up of the day. Responsible information handling: • Each month, carefully review your credit card, bank and phone statements, including cellular phone bills, for unauthorized use. • Convert as much bill-paying as you can to automatic deductions from your chequing account and/or credit account. Consider using the internet for banking and paying bills. With fewer account statements and bills mailed to your home, you will reduce the risk of mail theft and identity theft. • Do not toss pre-approved credit offers in your trash or recycling bin without first tearing them into very small pieces or shredding them with a cross-cut shredder. They can be used by “dumpster divers” to order credit cards in your name and mail them to their address. Do the same with other sensitive information like credit card receipts, phone bills, bank account statements, investment account reports, and so on. Home shredders can be purchased in many office supply stores. We recommend cross-cut shredders. • Use a gel pen for writing checks. Gel ink contains tiny particles of color that are trapped in the paper, making cheque washing more difficult. • Demand that financial institutions adequately safeguard your data. Discourage your bank from using the last four digits of the SIN as the PIN number they assign to customers. If you have been given the last four SIN digits as a default PIN, change it to something else. Insist they destroy paper and magnetic records before discarding them. By not adopting responsible information-handling practices, they put their customers at risk for fraud. • When you fill out loan or credit applications, find out how the company disposes of them. If you are not convinced that they store them in locked files and/or shred them, take your business elsewhere. Some auto dealerships, department stores, car rental agencies, and video stores have been known to be careless with customer applications. When you pay by credit card, ask the business how it stores and disposes of the forms. Avoid paying by credit card if you think the business is not careful. When paying with credit cards on the internet, be sure the company uses secure transmission and storage methods. • Store canceled cheques in a safe place. In the wrong hands, they could reveal a lot of information about you, including the account number, your phone number and driver's license number. If you rent a storage locker, take extra precautions when storing cancelled cheques, tax return information, and other sensitive financial information. Storage lockers are popular targets for thieves. • Store personal information securely in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or have service work done in your home. Use a locking file cabinet or safe. • Any entity that handles personal information should train all its employees, from top to bottom, on 7
  9. 9. responsible information-handling practices. Persuade the companies, government agencies, and nonprofit agencies with which you are associated to adopt privacy policies and conduct privacy training. • Remember, if you are a victim of identity theft, or if your wallet or SIN has been lost or stolen, place fraud alerts with both credit bureaus right away (Equifax 1-800-465-7166, and TransUnion (1-800-663-9980). Report the theft of your wallet to police and be prepared itemize the contents for them. In the workplace Identity theft affects consumers and businesses in a multitude of ways. Not only do businesses suffer direct loss due to this crime but inadequate security and poor business practices may open a company up to liability suits, fines and loss of clientele. While no one can totally prevent identity theft due to the human element of this crime there are steps that a company can take to minimize risk factors for all of us. Safe information handling practices are the key to keeping identifying information out of the hands of thieves. These are some of the questions that must be asked: • Information acquisition—Do you have a good reason for requesting the information that you gather? Are you acquiring it in a safe manner so that it cannot be overhead or seen by others? • Storage—What computer security measures have been placed around the systems storing personal data? Is the data considered highly classified and not common access? • Access—Is personal identifying information available only to limited staff? Is database access audited or password controlled? • Disposal—What is in your dumpster? Is it a treasure chest for thieves? Are electronic/paper documents and databases containing personal information rendered unreadable prior to disposal? • Distribution—Are personnel trained in the proper procedures regarding information disclosure? Do you publicly display, use or exchange personal information (especially Social Insurance Numbers) in your workplace? This includes employee or membership cards, timecards, work schedules, licenses or permits and computer access codes. • Personnel—Do you conduct regular background checks on ALL employees with access to identifying information? That might also include mail room staff, cleaning crews, temp workers and computer or hotline service techs. Businesses need to step up to the plate and become an ally in this war. They are truly our first line of defense. If they don’t, we never will start to control the invasive crime called identity theft. 8
  10. 10. FINANCIAL IDENTITY THEFT—WHAT SHOULD I DO? This section outlines the preliminary steps you should take if you have suffered financial identity theft. Organizing Your case: 1. Keep a detailed log in a spiral or composition notebook of all phone calls you receive or make, including the name of the person you spoke with, that person’s title, phone number, company name, and what was said during the conversation. Keep loose papers in a notebook or an accordion folder. 2. Send all correspondence to collection agencies, credit issuers and other entities via certified mail, return receipt requested to confirm the letter has been delivered. Keep the postcards that you receive for evidence if necessary. 3. Confirm all conversations and agreements in writing. The person who made an oral agreement with you may not be at that company two months later. 4. Keep all receipts of expenses and copies of correspondence. Who To contact: Talking with the wrong people will waste your valuable time—you have more than enough to do in putting your case together. Keep in mind whenever possible you want to speak with someone on the investigative or fraud side of a company or governmental agency. • Collection agencies and credit issuers: Customer service helps with billing. You need to speak with a fraud investigator or the legal department if a small company. • Law enforcement: Talk with your local police service or the police service where the crime is occurring. • When mail theft or fraud is an issue, speak only with the Postal Inspector‘s Office, not a post office manager. • When speaking to the Ministry of Transport, ask for a fraud investigator. Terms You Should Know: • Account takeover—When an identity thief uses your personal information to convince a financial institution to give him or her full control of your account. • Affidavit of forgery—A legal document that states that a certain signature is not yours, but a forgery. • Check washing—A method identity thieves use to commit check fraud. They dip a check in acetone, which washes the ink off so they can write it for a higher amount. • Credit repair agency—(These are not CRAs. See below.) A company that offers “cleanup” services to remove accurate information from your credit report. Often illegal and expensive, they are sometimes called credit clinics. • Credit reporting agency (CRA)—Commonly known as credit bureaus, they keep track of credit records, and issue credit reports to those who have a legitimate reason for accessing your credit history. These are the 2 Credit Bureaus in Canada: Equifax and TransUnion. • Fraud alert—A fraud alert is put on your credit report at the CRAs if you become an identity theft victim. It lets potential creditors know that someone may be trying to obtain new credit in your name, so the process will be very closely scrutinized. • Passwords—Your mother’s maiden name should never be used as a password or a word that is easily known to you such as a pet’s name. Use an unusual or made-up word such as “banapple”. Place passwords on all bank accounts and credit cards as a proactive prevention action against account takeover. • Security or Credit Freezes—With a freeze, a company may not look at your credit report for the purposes of establishing new lines of credit. Companies you already have an existing relationship with (example: a credit card, loan or utility service) may look at the reports but only to review your creditworthiness. This is a strong step to take and will affect your ability to get instant credit because it can take up to 3 days to thaw a report. However, it also locks out thieves and that is the purpose. • SIN—Social Insurance Number. • Truncated credit card number—When all the digits of your credit or debit card number, except for the last four or five, are “x’d” out on a receipt or other document. This is done to protect you from identity theft. • Victim’s statement—A statement that is attached to your credit report when you think you may be a 9
  11. 11. victim of identity theft. It asks creditors to contact you before opening any new credit accounts, or making any changes to existing ones. Step One: Assess The Damage • Stolen credit cards, cheques, or debit cards—Contact the financial institution(s) immediately and close the affected accounts. Put passwords on the new accounts. If you never made a copy of your card, you should be able to find a 24/7 phone number on the back of a billing or bank account statement. • Account Takeover—If a bank, credit card or debit account has been taken over by another person (charges you didn’t make appear on your monthly statement), close the account and open a new one. In most cases you need to notify the company (bank or credit card issuer) within 30 days so act quickly. It is vital to check statements monthly as few financial institutions allow a “grace” period longer than the contractual agreement (on the back of your monthly statement.) Add a password for protection. A password on the account will also prevent a thief from changing the account billing address or adding a name to the account. • Stolen-Lost Wallets—If your wallet has been taken follow the steps outlined in the appropriate section later in this booklet. • If your SIN has been taken, order your credit reports from both CRAs. The best way to evaluate how bad your case might be is to examine your credit reports. You may call the CRAs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When ordering your reports, you will have an opportunity to place a FRAUD ALERT on your report. This is an advisory statement and has been found to be only partially effective. The initial fraud alert will only last for 90 days. It is renewable using the same number and procedure you used to place one the first time. It may be extended to 7 years when you write the agency and send a copy of your police report verifying you as an identity theft victim. A fraud alert will not affect your credit score. While the first agency you call will state that they will contact the other agency for you, we recommend you empower yourself and make sure the job is done by calling both agencies. These are separate companies and they may have different information about you causing one of them to not send a report to you. You may also ask that your entire SIN is not on the report mailed to you, a good safety measure. Be sure that you have a locked mailbox in which you receive mail—a good tip for everyone. Finally, you will NOT be speaking with a person. These are automated systems and it is safe to give them your Social Insurance Number. You will be asked a number of questions to try to confirm you are who you say you are. This is for your security and to ensure they don’t send out a credit report to the wrong person. You will have access to a fraud assistance advisor once you receive your reports in the mail. Should you hear that the information you have provided does not match the information on file, it is a clear indication that there is a problem. This may mean that a thief has used an address with such frequency that it appears to be your primary address. In that case, follow the directions given and mail your request (with the required documents) to the address given by the CRA. During the time the alert is in place, should there be an inquiry into your credit, you should be notified by a phone call from the company making an inquiry confirming with you that you really requested the credit. The primary contact numbers for the CRAs are: Equifax (1-800-465-7166) and TransUnion (1-800-663-9980). Review Your Credit Reports Carefully—The credit reports are divided into five major sections: • The header: This is where you will find your information such as name, date of birth, address and SIN. There may be information about your yearly income. • Section 1: These are the accounts that you have open or have had opened during the last seven years. You will need to verify that it is an account that belongs to you. There are cases where the name of the company will not appear to be familiar. You may need to verify the account by comparing the account number to the number on your credit cards or billing statements. • Section 2: This is the section where inquiries are logged. Inquiries come in several different versions. One is that the company making the inquiry has an application in their possession and wish to verify your worthiness for credit. The other inquiry is by companies that you currently have a financial relationship 10
  12. 12. with and it serves as an account review. • Section 3: This section will display lists of companies that have acquired your information so that they can offer you a pre-approved credit solicitation. • Section 4: Will display a list of other addresses where you have lived if not in the header section. Step Two: Take Action To Resolve The Case 1. Contact the police in the jurisdiction where you live and file a Police Report. 2. Organize your case and make notes. 3. Contact all credit issuers, utility companies and collection agencies that show a fraudulent account. Close the accounts and ask for a FRAUD INVESTIGATOR. While talking with them, place passwords on affected accounts. 4. Get Application and Transaction Records—CRAs are required to send you any documents pertaining to your case they have. You will need to send an affidavit and a police report to receive copies of transaction and application records. A copy may also be sent to a designated police service. These documents may contain valuable evidence to point to a thief or help you to clear your name. The credit issuers must send you this information within 30 days. 5. Once you get the information from the credit issuers, contact the fraud department and point out any errors or fraudulent information. Provide evidence to prove your statements. For example, you could not have bought a shirt in Markham on October 10th since you were at work in Newmarket that day and your time-card can prove it. 6. Contact both CRAs using the form they provide for “correction of errors” and place a “BLOCK” on the fraudulent account. They must remove the information unless the credit issuer proves it is a true account. They must also correct any errors including addresses, phone numbers, birth dates and other information provided by the thief. 7. Get Letters of Clearance-keep these for at least 10 years. 8. Check your credit reports and make sure all corrections have been made. Step Three: Stop The Thief 1. When you first place your report, you will place a fraud alert. It lasts only 90 days and may be renewed. However, with a police report you can extend it to 7 years. It is advisory in nature only and is not completely reliable since some companies refuse to honor them. 2. Ask the CRA to explain the credit freeze option to you. This is a strong step to take and will affect your ability to get instant credit because it can take up to 3 days to thaw a report. In many ways this is the only truly proactive step you can take to stop a thief. What To Do If Your Wallet Or Palm Pilot/Blackberry Is Stolen While a lost or stolen wallet/palm pilot may simply mean the loss of your cash and credit cards, it may also be the beginning of an identity theft case. Take steps to reduce your risk of identity theft. The return of the item does not guarantee that cards were not copied, so you need to proceed as if the items were stolen. What Was In Your Wallet? • • • • • • • • • • • • • Any documents with your Social Insurance Number (SIN) printed on it Your Social Insurance Number card Driver’s license Credit cards (itemize) Vehicle registration papers Debit cards/Bank cards Cheque cashing card, bank cheques (your own account) SIN cards or numbers for any other family members (spouse, children) CAA and/or auto insurance card Library card Video store card (i.e. Blockbuster) Health insurance/prescription/dental benefit card. Did it have your SIN on it? Yes / No Employee or student ID card. Did it have your SIN on it? Yes / No 11
  13. 13. • • • • • • • • • • • Military ID card Provincial Health card Immigration papers Health club card Long distance calling card – PIN printed / not printed on card Prepaid phone cards – Nonrenewable / Renewable Any bills/statements you may have been carrying (i.e., telephone, electricity, credit card) Birth certificate Store club cards (supermarket, Sams, Costco) Professional licenses (doctor, nurse, etc.) Discount cards or passes (movie, amusement parks) What other information was in your Palm Pilot/Blackberry? • Any numbers or codes from the items above • Addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and birth dates for friends, family, business associates (some of these could lead to identity theft) • Codes, passwords, authorization information • Company proprietary information or intellectual property Tips for Dealing with the Authorities and Financial Institutions • Keep a log of all conversations, including dates, names and phone numbers. Start with the initial police report. Be sure to note time spent and keep receipts for any expenses incurred. In the event the thief is caught and you might be able to request restitution for these expenses. • Confirm conversations in writing. Request a written verification that accounts have been closed (including time and date), and/or a confirmation number. • Send correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested. • Keep copies of all letters and documents that you send and receive. • Whenever possible, speak with a fraud investigator and not a customer-service representative. If you are not satisfied with the answers given, request to speak with a supervisor. Keep going up the chain of command until you reach a decisionmaker. • Add passwords to bank, utility and credit accounts. This password should not be your mother’s maiden name or a word that acquaintances might know (i.e., your dog’s name). You might want to combine two words to make a new one—appleorange. While this may be excessive in some situations, it does provide some peace of mind. Priority Level One – Do Immediately: 1. Police report: Report the crime/loss to your local police service. Give them a list of the items it contained (see above). Request a copy of the report. You might need it later. Get the business card or name of the officer who took the report, the report number and a phone number to call if you have additional questions. 2. Workplace theft: If your wallet or Palm Pilot was lost or stolen at work, notify both the HR and Security Departments. You might recommend a notice be posted warning other personnel to take additional security precautions. For example, women should not be storing wallets or purses in unlocked, desk drawers. 3. Credit Alerts: Contact both of the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) by telephone. Use the fraud division number rather than the general number. Place a fraud alert with each CRA stating: “On (date) my wallet/ palm pilot was stolen/lost. Do not issue credit or allow address or name changes without my express permission. I may be reached at (home number) and (alternate number, such as your cell phone number).” While speaking with the CRAs, also order a copy of your credit reports. This allows you to check for any pending applications and verify that all the current information is correct. It becomes an accurate baseline for the fraud alert. For example, imposters might try to change your address. They can do so by applying for credit listing an address different than your current one. Differences in addresses are a warning flag for possible fraudulent activity. This is also a time to inquire if any new accounts have been opened recently or are pending. If so, get 12
  14. 14. contact information for those creditors and contact them immediately. In 2 to 3 months you will need to order additional copies of your reports to check for fraudulent accounts. There may be a small charge for these reports if you are not yet a victim of identity theft. Again, keep records of these charges in the event of restitution. Order credit reports every 6 months the first year. If no criminal activity has occurred by then, you can go back to checking your credit reports on a yearly basis. Be aware that fraud alerts are advisory in nature only and that credit issuers are not required to honor them. Fraud alerts are usually in place for 60 or 90 days. You will want to extend the time period to seven years; the CRAs require you do so in writing. You can cancel fraud alerts at any time. 4. Driver’s license or vehicle registration papers: If yours was taken, contact the Ministry of Transportation. Place a stolen/lost card warning on your file. At this time, request a replacement. If you discover that a thief is using your license, you can always request a license number change at a future date. If your vehicle registration papers are missing, notify them of this as well. 5. Credit cards or bills with credit issuers: Contact all credit issuers that issued the stolen/lost card(s). Request replacement cards with new account numbers. Ask the credit grantors to furnish copies of any fraudulent transactions that occurred after the card was stolen/lost. Monitor your mail for collection notices, missing statements or bills. Check bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity. Report problems immediately to credit grantors. 10. Chequing account or saving account numbers, cheques, debit cards used without PIN numbers: Contact the bank and close the account. Open a new account with a new number. Add a password on the account. It sometimes helps to go directly to the local branch and speak face-to-face with a bank administrator or fraud investigator. Do not waste time explaining your case to a teller. Many victims report that this was a good relationship to establish, especially when it came to frequent (free!) required notary signatures. 11. Cheque cashing card: Notify your bank immediately. Cancel the card and request assistance about what to do next. 12. Supermarket club cards, including cheque cashing: Notify the store, cancel the card and request a new card. 13. Long distance calling card with PIN number printed on the card: Cancel the card immediately and request a replacement card. Do not have your pin number printed on the card. Change password on the account. Priority Level Two – Do Within 48 Hours 1. Social Insurance Number involvement: If any card had your SIN on it, you should be concerned about the possibility of identity theft. The thief may only have been after the cash in your wallet, but given the problem of identity theft, it is better to take certain precautions. Visit a Service Canada Centre and bring all the necessary documents with you proving fraud or misuse of your SIN. Also bring an original identity document (your birth certificate or citizenship document). One of their officials will review your information and provide you with assistance and guidance, or contact Human Resources Development Canada at: Social Insurance Registration P.O. Box 7000 Bathurst, NB E2A 4T1 E-mail: 2. Library and video store cards: Contact the issuing company/agency. Ask for that account to be closed and another opened with a replacement number. You may also want to add a password to the new account. 3. All other cards with a membership or identification number printed on the card (SIN or another number). 13
  15. 15. ORGANIZING YOUR IDENTITY THEFT CASE Identity theft cases can become very complex. You may be dealing with multiple jurisdictions. There may be numerous instances of unauthorized and fraudulent use of your identity. And you have had more conversations about your case than you could possibly remember. In order to become an effective, strong advocate for your case, it is vital to impose a form of organization on your case from the first day. You need to track evidence, paperwork and contacts. You should keep a journal to help you remember what occurred, when you received documents, what documents you still need, as well as your costs and time lost. This documentation will help prove financial loss when requesting restitution from the courts. All of your papers are evidence in a criminal case and should be treated as such. Think like a police officer or an attorney. Keeping your records current, organized and protected may make a critical difference in a conviction or winning a lawsuit! Use a thick notebook or two, with sections for each type of documentation. Buy a three-hole punch and just keep adding to the pile. Whatever you decide, keep everything in one place and stick to your routine. Don’t allow them to pile up on that black hole called a desk, visible to everyone, safe from no-one. There are three sets of organizers each victim should use: • Official Case Log • Personal Journal • Notebook Items Official Case Log: Chronological And Detailed Journal Of Events • Best kept in a bound booklet or ledger-type book. • Keep a dated log either on the computer or on paper. A bound booklet, like a ledger book where pages cannot be easily removed, carries a great deal of weight in a court case. Start with the first time you found out you were a victim of identity theft and continue from there. • Make sure you have firewall protection if you use a computer. • Avoid writing notes on little post-its; they will get lost. Write directly in your log, neatness does not count. You may choose to later input the notes on your computer either in a word processing or database program, but keep all of your original notes. • Confirm agreements and discussions: Whenever possible, ask for written confirmation of a discussion. If refused, send a “Confirmation of Discussion” to that person stating that if the information as you listed it is incorrect, they should contact you. When they don’t, you have confirmation. Send this by return receipt requested mail so you have a paper trail. Fax or e-mail is acceptable only if you get a written response of receipt. • Log items received and sent: Log in what you receive by mail, who it was from, what steps you took that day with that piece of mail or the phone call. • Telephone records: Start a separate telephone and address book, separate from the log, for ease in finding contact names quickly. However, also include this information in the official case log. Some victims like to use the last few pages of the log as a directory, working backwards as it grows. • Keep a log of every penny you spend, when it occurred, what it was used for. Attach receipts to the sheets of paper in your log if you want, documenting what it was for, just like for your taxes. If necessary, you can photocopy them later for court cases. • Track phone calls, postage, mileage, legal assistance, notarizing, court costs for documentation. Time lost from work—including vacation time you lost because you needed to spend that week on your case—is also considered an expense. If you decide to purchase any self-help materials (i.e., books, an organizer) or pay for assistance (i.e., babysitting, accountant, attorney), these costs may also be considered reimbursable by the courts. • Document the time you spend working on your case. Your time is your largest investment. • Did you need to see a doctor because of emotional distress, severe upset stomachs or headaches? Did you get arrested because of the imposter’s actions or suffer from undue embarrassment at your job site because a bailiff or collection agency contacted you there and your co-workers overhead the conversation? • Your costs—including the amount of time you spent on clearing your name—will become the basis of your 14
  16. 16. request for restitution, but you hold the burden of proving these costs occurred. The judge has the right to refuse anything he/she deems unreasonable. • Court notes: If possible, we recommend you attend all court hearings from the Arraignment on. Take notes. Who was the judge? Who was the Crown Attorney that day? What was said by the Crown Attorney, the defense attorney, the accused, and the judge? What is the next court date? What will occur then? Ask questions of the Crown Attorney after your case is heard if you aren’t certain about what happened or what will happen next. • Summary of case to date: Write a 1/2 page summary of your case every month or so. This will help you to focus on the primary points of your case, answer questions effectively and clearly explain what has transpired. Should you decide to go public and talk with the media, this exercise will help you quickly summarize your case instead of rambling on. It will also help you explain your case to a Crown Attorney or an attorney who doesn’t have time to chat. Personal Journal: • Keep track of each person you spoke with, their title, employee number, phone and fax number, e-mail address and the procedure you need to use to reach them easily (i.e., Punch 2, then *, then 41). • Include what they said, any follow-up needed from that call and the date that follow-up should occur. • Some people also like to use this opportunity to vent, to write down their frustrations/emotions/fears. Write down your suspicions and emotional outbursts in a separate journal from the official log of the case. As your case goes on, you will forget these small details unless they are documented. This may help an attorney show emotional distress if your case goes to court. Notebook Items: • Without a mentor or any prior experience in court cases, many of us start by throwing papers into a file or a box. This just doesn’t work. It quickly turns into clutter and you chance having someone throw out your papers thinking it is trash. • You may decide to keep duplicates, especially if you tend to misplace items. File away all papers as soon as you receive them. • Police report: This item is of highest priority. It is not enough to just have a case number, though you may have to settle for that. Request a copy of the report or at least a summary of it. When that fails, get a letter from the detective on the case stating that he/she could not give you a physical copy of the report. Your case number may change as it moves through the judicial system. Keep track of them all, noting who uses which number. • Any applications, credit slips, credit cards, physical proof of the fraud: Keep everything you receive by mail that relates to your case or may relate to your case, even if you don’t understand its significance at the time. Depending on the complexity of your case, you may even decide to keep a separate section for each credit grantor involved. • As soon as you find out about a new credit card, purchase or crime, request all documentation regarding that action. Do not take no for an answer. If the first person will not help, speak with the supervisor. If he/she cannot help, keep going higher up. If you are listed as the “primary account holder,” they have an obligation to provide you with copies. • The police will be interested in seeing these, although in some cases they cannot use them as evidence. In some cases they will need to request a search warrant and officially receive these forms from the credit grantors—chain of evidence requirements. • In many cases, victims receive information from credit grantors that the police cannot access. It can make a big difference in proving a case because the police can then go back to the grantors and subpoena specific information. • Credit reports: During the active phase of your case when a lot of activity is occurring, request credit reports about every three months. Keep these together to track changes as they occur. As things seem to quiet down, you may cut back to requesting reports every six months. • Keep copies of all letters you send or receive regarding this case. • All court documents: This may include subpoenas, probation reports, and transcripts of testimony, if necessary. • Victim statements: We recommend that you submit a victim statement in writing whenever a judge will hear your case. 15
  17. 17. Summary: As victims of identity theft, we are often left on our own, without a guide through the maze of re-establishing our good credit and name. We cannot emphasize enough the need to stay organized. It helps you to appear more professional, prove possible violations of the law, bring your case more quickly to a more positive place, and return a sense of order back into your life. 16
  18. 18. EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: Making Allies And Getting Results—A Tool For Identity Theft Victims Have you ever known someone who could sell ice to Eskimos? In working through your case, it may seem like this is exactly what you must do. Some victims complain that the people they talk with only know two phrases, “No” and “When will we get our money?” In order to be successful, you need to acknowledge and give up those styles that do not work, then embrace ones that will. So, prior to starting, take a moment to analyze your current communication style. When dealing with an obstructionist, do you bully, yell, stay calm, give up, or just keep talking until they hang up? Be honest and write down your answers. Almost all of us lose our temper on the phone at some time. Denying it only keeps us from being successful. Now go through that list. What techniques work for you? Put a star by those. Which ones don’t get the results you want? Those are the ones you’ll want to change. Strategize: • Prior to any conversation, organize your thoughts. Identity theft cases can be complicated. Write down what points you want to cover and what you want to accomplish. This is/are your goal(s). • Prioritize your goals. If you have more than one, limit the issues so that you don’t dilute your efforts. Make sure your listener understands that you have several issues and the order of their importance. Otherwise, they will deal with the little, easy-to-fix items and ignore the bigger ones. • Have a fallback position. No one always get exactly what they want. What will you settle for? What is your bottom line? You don’t need to reveal it to the listener; just keep it in mind as he/she offers possible resolutions to your problem. • Analyze your listener’s priorities and situation. What resistances or predispositions might they have? What will they need to hear from you to conclude that what you are saying is true? What is their day like? Is it pleasant? Do they hear complaints all day? • Will the person you speak with have limitations in how they can assist you? What decision-making powers do they have? • Only speak with those empowered to take action. If the person you are speaking with cannot help, respectfully ask for someone who can. Making Allies: • Grandma was right—you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Anger never works; people stop listening. You want to engage this person and convert him/her to an ally. If you are angry, delay your call until you can redirect your anger into positive, calm, pleasant, effective communication. Be someone who acknowledges any attempt to help you. A “thank you” goes a long ways toward winning allies. • A conversation that just blows off steam only causes resentment and alienates your listener. This will also hurt future relationships with that person. • A shared sense of humor can lighten a difficult problem and turn listeners into allies. • Only share what they need to know to solve your problem. People stop listening to rambling. They lose focus of your goal. • Try to anticipate what the person will need from you and have it ready. • Logic usually wins. Develop your list in a logical progression. When you see inconsistencies in answers, point them out and ask for clarification. Listen to the logic in the responses you get. Use it to understand the situation and as a guide as to what else you need to do. For example: You may think you know where the perpetrator lives—that is where the computer was mailed. However, the detective will probably tell you that in his experience most criminals do not use home addresses to receive stolen goods. Logic says that is more than likely true. • Be an active listener. When the other person is speaking, it is not the time to plan your next question. If you listen carefully, the speaker may provide a hint or lead that could be important. Study how television “judges” question the defendant and plaintiff and LISTEN for inconsistencies or information that leads to the truth. People give away a lot of information when encouraged through careful questioning. • Ask questions and then stop talking. For example, “What do I need to submit to remove my name from this account?” If you start to suggest solutions, you dilute your request. Force the other person to respond 17
  19. 19. to your question by sitting quietly until they do. • People basically want to please you and help. Speak quietly, acknowledge what is being said and ask for clarification if you don’t understand. If the answer is not one that you want, explain your problem with the answer and ask how to achieve what you want. • Repetition works. If you ask a question, don’t accept an answer that doesn’t answer the question. Acknowledge their answer (confirming you heard them), then ask your question again. For example: You— “I have a problem. You are trying to collect money on an account I never opened. How do I remove my name from an account opened fraudulently in my name?” Them— We just want to know how soon you plan to pay up.” “ You— “I understand that you normally deal with people who haven’t paid their bills. My case is different. How do I remove my name from this account?” Influencing Change: • Keep your head. Breathe, stay calm and controlled. Live in the moment, but as in chess, know where you are going. Look for openings and be flexible while focusing on the goal. Sometimes it doesn’t matter which route you take, just that you arrive. • Be respectful. This is not the time to step on people. Explain your situation and how this crime has impacted you (briefly). Ask for their help. Provide an opening for the listener/decision-maker to sympathize and bond with you. For example: In speaking with a credit issuer. “The collection agency said your company has to clear me. I spoke with one of your customer-service reps and she said the collection agency has to do it. I’m caught in the middle here. I didn’t open the account and I can’t find the right person to help me. Can you help me sort out this mess?” • Don’t be an obstructionist. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with a know-it-all? No matter what you say, you are wrong and they are right. A conversation isn’t a conversation without an exchange of information. • Pick your battles. You may win one argument but alienate a person so much that you lose the war. Typically, you will have several interactions with decision-makers. You need their cooperation and willingness to listen. • Recognize the limitations of the situation. In most cases of identity theft, making sure the person is arrested is “the frosting on the cake.” Be realistic in setting your goals. 18
  20. 20. OVERCOMING THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT You’ve been spending hours writing credit card companies, calling merchants and spending time on hold with credit bureaus waiting to report the crime and request your credit report. Each time you answer the telephone or go to the mailbox, you wonder what new bill will appear. The idea of dealing with yet another collection agency or a newly discovered credit card leaves you filled with dread, rage and helplessness. It is normal for this crime to have an emotional impact on you and your family. In fact, it would be unusual if it did not. Identity theft is a complex problem. Therefore, it is not surprising that some victims react as survivors of prolonged, repeated trauma, much like battered women or prisoners of war. In fact, victims may compare the crime to rape or torture. Some feel like they are experiencing a form of “post traumatic stress disorder” for a short time. At one point or another, victims of identity theft may feel overwhelmed by the psychological pain of loss, helplessness, anger, isolation, betrayal, rage and even embarrassment. This crime triggers deep fears regarding financial security, the safety of family members, and the ability to ever trust again. It is not uncommon for identity theft victims to shut down emotionally and withdraw from family, friends and co-workers. You might suspect that someone you know committed this crime. Perhaps you might feel that no one seems to care or understand how devastated you are by the crime. Let’s face it, many friends and family members get tired of hearing about the crime after the first or second time. Unfortunately, it may take months for this to be completely cleared up, and you may need to talk about it for more than a couple of days. Dealing with the mess left by an imposter is only part of your job. This crime, like other long-term crimes that involve repeated emotional abuse, can affect not only your emotional stability but that of your family. So, while you take care of the paperwork, don’t forget to leave a little time to work on healing your and your family’s emotional wounds. The moment Of Discovery: Be prepared for a roller coaster ride of emotions. As the implications sink in you may well find yourself cycling between denial (“This is not happening.”) and rage (“How dare they!”), endless questioning (“How is this possible?” “Why me?”), and hopelessness and vulnerability (“Nothing can protect me”). This is normal and should be expected. Few people are emotionally protected from the impact of identity theft. There is a profound loss of innocence and trust associated with this crime. You may also have to deal with the fact that someone you know personally may be involved in the theft. That’s a lot to absorb. Finally, you may feel stonewalled by the very people you turn to for help: the police and criminal justice system. Identity theft is a difficult crime to solve, and the wheels of justice can turn very slowly. Be patient with yourself and with those who want to help. Starting The Healing Process And Regaining Emotional Balance: While it might take some time to straighten out the paper trail, it is important for you to regain your emotional balance as quickly as possible. The feelings you have are valid. You have been harmed. Recognizing and accepting your fears, apprehensions and frustrations is the first step. They might even sneak up on you, unexpected, sometimes long after the original crime, triggered by a situation most people would just shrug off. Don’t berate yourself. Such emotional floods are a part of the healing process. Embarrassment is a waste of time and energy. Some people become embarrassed at becoming an identity theft victim. They feel ashamed and that they did something wrong or maybe deserved to have this happen to them. No-one deserves to be a victim of identity theft. We’ll say that again—No-one deserves to be a victim of identity theft. We all make mistakes, moments we would give anything to get back and do just the opposite. (Forgetting your wallet on a store counter, releasing private information over the telephone, entering private information at a ‘phishing’ web site…) That’s in the past and beating up on yourself will not make this go away. It’s wasted energy and you’ll need all you have to clean up your records. The key to combating identity theft is not, nor has it ever been, up to the victim. We are not the first line of defense. It is up to the business community to protect us by practicing safer information handling procedures and safeguarding one 19
  21. 21. of our most valuable possessions—our identifying information. You are not alone. In 2002, in the United States, there were more than 700,000 new victims of identity theft. That averages to about one every 40 seconds. In Canada, estimates are that 1 out of every 5 people will be victims of identity theft. While support and assistance is not as complete as we’d like to see it, there are many resources for victims of identity theft today. You don’t need to be alone through this crisis, if you choose not to be. Appreciate the value of a support team. The emotional damage and isolation you feel can be compounded if you believe family members or friends don’t understand what you are going through. The reality is that people who have not gone through identity theft may not recognize the ongoing nature of this crime. They may expect that after the initial crime, you should just go on with your life or they may simply tire of hearing about your problem. Many victims find that after they explain how they feel and ask for ongoing support, their support team is more open to being there through the long haul. Personality Changes: It’s not surprising that something like identity theft may cause a certain amount of personality changes including the ways you relate to others. Identity theft attacks our belief in the trustworthiness of others. Some victims go through a period of time when they refuse to give anyone any information. Many victims never see the world with the same innocence again. Identity theft is life altering. However, if you feel the changes have gotten out of hand, or people on your support team raise some concerns, it can be very helpful to seek professional help from someone who understands identity theft response or victimization. Overcoming Feelings Of Powerlessness: Recognizing your emotions: An emotion is your reaction to a situation. While it may not always seem like it, your reaction is under your control. When you say, “He made me angry,” you are mentally giving another person your power over your reaction. He didn’t make you angry—in that split second, without conscious thought, you chose to become angry. That awareness is a step in regaining control over the situation. Be consistent and organized. In terms of paperwork, consistence and organization are the key. Keep track of whom you talk with and what needs to be done next. Keep a journal with a calendar of “things to do.” If you can control the process, you will start to feel more on top of the mess. Don’t forget the rest of your life. Emotionally, at times, it is going to feel like everyone has control of your life but you. You might feel battered and bounced from one person or agency to another in your quest to clear your name. While identity theft seems all-consuming, it is important to acknowledge the other parts of your life that this crime has not touched. Focus on your accomplishments in life both in the past and currently. Accentuate the positives. Finally, some victims find a gift in identity theft. They learn how powerful they truly are. They find an assertiveness they never exercised before. They learn how to talk with high level people and get what they want, sometimes with a boldness they never knew they had. In addition, they find who their true friends are. Take Time For Yourself: Be kind to yourself. Cleaning up the problems left by identity theft can become a full time job. Take the time to pamper yourself and your support team. Now is the time to take advantage of those two-for-one dinner coupons, offers from others to baby-sit your kids or help do carpools or even the housekeeping. This might even be a good time to enjoy a weekend away from town, maybe with someone you care about. This is not a time to start a new diet. Listen to your body. It will tell you what it needs—rest, a massage, a day at an amusement park, comfort foods (in moderation), a night at a comedy club, or a long bath. Exercise. Exercise is a wonderful way to relieve stress and get away from the telephone. Take a long walk in the park, at the beach, or around your favorite lake. Play a round of golf or tennis or even go horseback riding. Swim some laps or go fly a kite. Learn a new sport or hobby. Set limits. Finally, don’t be afraid to say “no” to requests for your time. Don’t be afraid to speak out when you feel taken advantage of. Identity theft cannot become the only part of your life that you see. 20
  22. 22. A Special Note To victims Who Are The Financial Head Of A Household: Identity theft plays special havoc on those who are financially responsible for others or who are their only source of financial support. This crime threatens your credit rating, may affect your ability to get a loan or purchase a big-ticket item and even temporarily jeopardize your existence, as you know it. However, please know you have not let your family down. You did not cause this to happen. You are an innocent victim. We find that being honest with other members of the family takes the unbearable weight from your shoulders. You need to hear them say they don’t blame you, and they don’t. You have enough to deal with in the paperwork alone. Let your loved ones and friends help with the emotional burden and even some of the paperwork. Few of us can conquer this alone. Feelings About The Imposter(s): Whether you know the imposter or not, you may give a lot of thought to the person behind the act. • If you know the imposter: You may feel more pronounced feelings of betrayal, especially if the person was a friend or family member. It may be very difficult to turn this person in to the authorities. The decision has many ramifications, for you and for those who know both you and the imposter. You might want to seek counseling, either to help you make your decision or live with its consequences. • If you are a friend/relative of a victim, you need to be supportive. This victim is dealing with much more than a crime. They may feel in a no-win situation, especially if they are being pulled in two different directions—turn the person in and betray the imposter or don’t act and betray the person insisting on action. • If the imposter is still unknown: Victims often report a feeling of insecurity, wondering if the person standing next to them in the market or walking past them on the street may be the imposter. They may distrust everyone, feeling tremendously vulnerable. It’s important to put the crime in some sense of proportion in order to function. This may mean focusing on the crime and not the criminal. • To everyone: Making sure the person is arrested may not always bring you peace. Identity theft is epidemic and you are not immune to future crimes by other imposters. An arrest does not make the imposter accept guilt. Peace is yours to create, accept or deny. Moving Into Activism: Some crime victims find that by moving from their personal experience into a broader world, they begin the healing process. Here are some ways that you can help others while helping yourself: • • • • • • Join or begin a identity theft support group Help other victims Work to change laws Increase public awareness Increase corporate awareness Help to increase understanding of this crime with law enforcement, district attorneys and victim assistance personnel • Get involved in community volunteer policing programs Should You Consider Professional Help? Without intervention, some victims can become so chronically dysfunctional that they are unable to cope any longer. They may be severely depressed—some symptoms are exhaustion, overeating, anxiousness, drinking, forgetful, or an unwillingness to leave home or their bed. Don’t wait until you feel lost at the bottom of a pit. Even if you don’t feel overwhelmed, talking to a trained professional who specializes in crime victims can be very beneficial. This could be a religious leader (i.e., minister, rabbi), a licensed counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Going to someone should never be considered a sign of weakness. You are going through a very stressful time and need to talk about your feelings. Victim assistance professionals have long recognized the value of support groups and counseling for victims of crime—and you are a victim of crime. In some cases, you can seek restitution for the services of a professional 23
  23. 23. therapist should your case go to court. The following is a partial resource list for those who may not be financially able to afford a private therapist themselves or who may need the name of a good therapy program. We also recommend you look in the front of your local phone book under Crisis Intervention, Counseling and Mental Health. • • • • • • • Local religious leader—your pastor, rabbi or minister Family Service Association Ask for a low cost referral from your family physician YMCA Family Stress Counseling Services Your local Mental Health Association Many professional counseling associations refer clients to free or reduced cost programs. Local hospitals often maintain lists of both governmental and non-profit assistance programs. Some sponsor clinics and support programs. Talk with the mental health department. • Many businesses have an employee assistance program. You may want to talk with your HR representative to find out about availability. Clinical Symptoms Of Crime Victims: Many victims compare identity theft to rape, others to a cancer invading their lives. Many of the symptoms and reactions to identity theft victimization parallel those of violent crime. The following information is for understanding and, perhaps, to reassure victims that what they are experiencing is not abnormal. The reaction to identity theft can run the full spectrum from mild to severe. Clearly, the complexity of the crime itself will also define the severity of the impact, as will any other traumatic events that may occur around that same time frame. • Impact: The moment of discovery. • Can last from 2 hours to several days. • Reactions include shock, disbelief, denial, inappropriate laughter, feeling defiled or dirty, shame or embarrassment. • Recoil: Can last for several weeks or months, especially as other instances of theft are uncovered. • Physical and psychological symptoms may include: heart palpitations, chest discomfort, breathing difficulties (i.e., shortness of breath, hyperventilation), dizziness, clumsiness, sweating, hot and cold flashes, elevated blood pressure, feeling jumpy or jittery, shaking, diarrhea, easily fatigued, muscle aches, dry mouth, lump in throat, pallor, heightened sensory awareness, headaches, skin rashes, nausea, sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbance. • It is not uncommon for victims to frequently search through events trying to pinpoint what they did to contribute to this crime. • Anger, rage, tearfulness, overwhelming sadness, loss of sense of humor, an inability to concentrate, hyperprotectiveness, and a deep need to withdraw are all part of the psychological reactions to identity theft. • You may misplace anger on others, especially loved ones causing family discord. Those who tend to lean on unhealthy habits such as under or overeating, smoking, alcohol or drugs may be drawn to those addictions for comfort. • During Recoil, victims may experience a sensation of grief. They may grieve the loss of: financial security, sense of fairness, trust in the media, trust in people/humankind and society, trust in law enforcement and criminal justice systems, trust in employer (especially in workplace ID theft), trust in caregivers and loved ones, faith, family equilibrium, sense of invulnerability and sense of safety, hopes/dream and aspirations for the future. • At one point or another, almost all victims will also grieve a loss of innocence, sense of control, sense of empowerment, sense of self and identity, and sense of self worth. • Equilibrium/Balance/Recovery: In identity theft, this phase may come as early as several weeks after the crime and for others may take months or years. It usually depends on how quickly the actions of the imposter are resolved and cleared up. For all victims, achieving balance and entering recovery will take awareness, purposeful thought, and action. Don’t bury your head in the sand…identity theft will not go away! 24
  24. 24. APPENDIX “A” Reporting Stolen/Lost Provincial Health Cards Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan in Alberta dial 310-0000, then 780-427-1432 Health Insurance BC (MSP) 1-800-663-7100 Manitoba Health Card Health Care Abuse/Fraud Line: Voice: (204) 786-7118 Toll-Free: 1-866-778-7730 New Brunswick Medicare 1-888-762-8600 Newfoundland Medical Care Plan (709) 292-4010 JewerG@ NWT Health Care Plan 1-800-661-0830 Nova Scotia’s Health Insurance Plan 1-800-563-8880 Nunavut Health Insurance Card (867) 645-5006 Ontario Health Insurance Plan 1-800-664-8988 PEI Medical Services Insurance (902) 368-6130 Quebec Health Insurance Plan (RAMQ) 1-800-561-9749 Yukon Health Card (867) 667-5209 25
  25. 25. Crime Reduction Canada wishes to acknowledge the sponsorship of Without their generous sponsorship, the Crime Reduction Canada web site would be not be possible. This document was prepared as a public service by Crime Reduction Canada.