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Cybercrime: Is your identity protected?

September 26, 2022

Have you ever given any thought to how secure your personal information really is?

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) estimates Canadians lost $230 million to fraud in 2021. More than $100 million of this was associated with online fraud. Even more troubling, the CAFC estimates that 1 in 5 Canadians will fall victim to identity theft.

With social media and online services, we are sharing more personal information online than ever before. That means there’s more for cybercriminals to steal.

There’s probably a lot of information about you online – more than you may realize. Your full name, birthday, phone number, work history, Social Insurance Number, driver’s licence and login credentials - that information makes up your digital identity and you may be sharing it without even realizing it! Whenever you use social media, financial services, cloud services, web browsers, online databases, or online subscriptions, your data is collected.

That personal information is what fraudsters are after. Whether it’s an investment or online shopping scam, criminals can pose as reputable businesses and even government officials. With just a few personal details, they can empty bank accounts, run up credit cards or demand ransoms for an infected laptop.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft refers to thieves stealing someone else's personal information for criminal purposes. It can be unsophisticated, such as dumpster diving or mail theft. Or, it can be more elaborate, such as phishing or database breaches. Phishing refers to when a scammer sends an email that appears to be from a recognized institution or company, such as a bank or online subscription services such as Netflix or Amazon. The email may claim that you need to update your account or that your tax refund is ready. Whatever the message is, the email is an attempt to trick you into providing your personal or financial information. A variation is an email with minimal text that encourages you to click on links or attachments. The email may seem to be a receipt from recent purchases, delivery notification or something more urgent. If you click the link or attachment, your computer is then infected with a virus or malware.

What is identity fraud?

This happens when criminals use stolen personal information often to commit another crime. Fraudsters can use your information to access your computer/email, bank accounts, open new bank accounts, apply for loans and credit cards, buy goods and services, get passports or receive government benefits.

Scammers have become more and more sophisticated too. A 2020 report released by Statistics Canada focused on how online habits changed for Canadians in the first six months of the pandemic. It found that 42 percent of Canadians dealt with a cyber security incident during those first several months. These included phishing attacks, fraud, malware, and hacked accounts. Of those who reported a cyber incident, 36 per cent said they suffered a loss in terms of time, data, or money.

So how do you protect your identity? Follow some of these tips:

  • Secure your Wi-Fi – avoid conducting financial or corporate transactions on public networks
  • Use strong passphrases or passwords of at least 10 characters and change them regularly
  • Limit how much personal information you share online and what you post on social media
  • Install anti-virus software
  • Update all your devices – computer, laptop, tablets and mobile phone -software often
  • Watch out for suspicious activity on your accounts
  • Don't send personal information by email, like a credit card, social insurance or driver's licence numbers. Hackers use email as one of their favourite ways to steal sensitive information.
  • Don't click links or attachments from unknown senders. Be cautious if you get an unusual email that seems to be from a trusted source, like a financial institution asking for personal information, demanding payments or offering a refund.
  • Learn more about the company running an online contest before you enter. Don't click a pop-up that declares you a winner if you haven't entered!

There are additional ways to keep your identity safe. Increasingly, more individuals taking out personal cyber insurance. HUB SmartCoverage, for example, offers an Identity Theft policy that provides $20,000 in coverage for only $30 a year. Such protections can prove invaluable to help restore your identity should you ever become a victim. You can get a quote here.

Finally, if you believe you are the victim of a scam or identity theft you should report it immediately to the police. The CAFC also offers victims valuable tips on what to do next.

Bottom line? Take extra steps in today’s digital world to keep your personal details safe!

RELATED READING: Protecting children on the Internet

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