The theft of personal information of as many as 11,700 current and former staff members at the University of Victoria this week has highlighted the danger posed by identity thieves. However, say police, residents can take some steps to protect themselves.
Oceanside RCMP Constable Pam Casey said there are several warning signs to look for if you think your personal information might have been compromised, and some steps you can take if you find out it has.
“Some of the warning signs include getting notices about credit card applications you didn’t make, or if you have regular bills or statements that usually come in the mail that don’t show up,” Casey said. “Look for payments being charged to you that you didn’t authorize. As well, a common sign is when a collection agency starts phoning you and you have no recollection of the bill.”
Daniel Williams, with the RCMP Fraud Centre, agreed.
“A common feature of identity theft is having your mail redirected by the bad guys,” Williams said. “If your mail has stopped, look into that right away.”
He noted that while Canada Post will give a notice about mail being redirected, the thieves make a point of stealing those notices before they are seen by the victim.
Once a determination has been made that identity theft has likely occurred, Casey said it’s crucial to take action — and quickly.
“If you think you have become a victim, notify your bank or credit card company immediately,” she said. “That’s where you should start. Change all your PIN numbers and passwords for online banking, because they need that information to access your accounts.”
Casey also suggested contacting credit agencies and requesting a fraud alert to be placed on your file.
“That way, if someone tries to use your credit in another way it will come up,” she said.
Williams agreed, noting the credit bureaus Equifax and TransUnion Canada will provide information about things being applied for in your name.
“The vast majority of these will be con men applying for cell phones and credit cards,” Williams said. “Request a copy of your credit report. It’s free of charge and it doesn’t affect your credit rating. Then you have proof positive that someone has been using your identification to apply for something in your name.”
Williams said identity theft has been a problem for years, so much so he said there’s already enough information floating about to keep unscrupulous individuals busy for years.
“The bad guys already have more information than they can use in several lifetimes, so they get to pick and choose,” he said.
Equifax can be reached at 1-800-465-7166 and TransUnion Canada can be reached at 1-877-525-3823.
Casey also suggested visiting www.phonebusters.com for more information.