How to Prevent Identity Theft and Fraud in 5 Simple Steps

Over 35,000 Canadians are the victims of identity theft every year. Here’s how you can avoid being one of them.

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1. Protect Your Digits

Your social insurance number (SIN) is the key to a kingdom of personal records, from your credit report to your tax return, so you’re wise to keep it secure. The nine-digit SIN was created in 1964 as a unique client identifier for the Canada Pension Plan and various employment insurance programs, but its use has expanded to virtually all transactions between you and the government. However, with no legal restrictions on who employs it, your SIN may also be requested by private-sector organizations—and that’s where the problems start.

Even if you’re asked for it, you don’t have to give your SIN to your landlord, your doctor’s office, your cellphone provider or when filling out a credit card or employment application. The more it’s floating around, the more likely it’ll be stolen and sold on the so-called “dark web.” (This sinister underbelly of the Internet, which can only be accessed with special software, hosts marketplaces and eBay-like auction sites where identities are bought and sold.) So if you’re not sure whether it’s really necessary to provide your SIN, ask why it’s being requested and if you can provide an alternate form of identification.

If you think your SIN has been stolen, file a complaint with police and make sure you get a case reference number and the officer’s name and telephone number. Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) for further advice. Every few months, you’ll need to request a copy of your credit report from one of Canada’s two national credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, and review it for any suspicious activity. Credit alerts can be placed on your file, requiring that you be contacted if anyone tries to open a new account in your name.

As tax season rolls around, make sure to heed these tips from Canadian accountants.