“It’s okay to be suspicious.”
That’s the message Jeff Kasbrick, a spokesperson with the Alberta Motor Association, has when it comes to people protecting themselves from identity crime.
The AMA pointed to Statistics Canada data from 2015 that showed Red Deer had the third highest identity theft rate in Canada, at 31.97 incidents per 100,000 people, with the national average at 6.96.
Red Deer also has the fourth highest identity fraud rate, at 87.18 incident per 100,000, with the national average being 32.65.
Identity theft is defined as acquiring someone’s personal information for criminal purposes and identity fraud is deceptive use of someone else’s identity information in connection with fraud.
Kasbrick said Thursday that despite the numbers, people shouldn’t live in absolute fear. “The numbers are still relatively low, however we need to be extremely conscientious because the degrees of which identity crimes are occurring are a lot more sophisticated.”
Shredding or securing confidential documents is one of the better ways of protecting confidential information, he said.
Seniors are subject to identity crimes, however the AMA is increasingly noticing that it’s indiscriminate in many ways of one’s socio-economic background, age, gender or any other qualifier. Criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated so it’s important to be proactive, he said.
Everyone needs to be aware of protecting their identity and making sure they are suspicious. If something does not look right on bank or credit card statements, or you receive mail you don’t recall asking for, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Legitimate organizations will not have concerns about responding, he said.
It may be that the higher numbers related to identity theft in Alberta, which are higher than many other parts of the country, is that the downturn in the economy has seen increased criminal activity, Kasbrick.
There are resources for people who are victims, and who suspect criminal activity. Besides reporting suspicious activity to police and one’s financial institution, there’s also the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Canadians spend $150 million every year trying to restore their good name after experiencing identity theft, Kasbrick said.
An AMA survey found that six per cent of AMA’s members have been victims of identity theft, and eight per cent have a family member who has been a victim. The AMA offers its annual free shredding to its members on April 22 in Red Deer.
Here are some tips the organization offers:
- Remove unnecessary ID from your wallet or purse
- Keep tabs on your credit history
- Be wary of small, unfamiliar charges on a credit card or bank statement, as they may be “test purchases” by thieves who’ve acquired your information
- Whenever possible, swipe your card yourself during a transaction
- Always shield your PIN in public places
- If a card shows up in the mail that you didn’t apply for, don’t assume it was a mistake; contact the company immediately
- Be cognizant of missing mail or email, as criminals may have changed your contact address
- Securely dispose of all documents that contain personal information
- Don’t use one password for everything, as fraudsters will have access to all your accounts if they learn it. Your best bet is to create passwords that use a combination of numbers, letters (upper and lowercase) and special characters
- Beef up the answers to your online security questions, such as those used for recovering a lost password. For example, a criminal might learn on Facebook that your first pet was named Fido, but if you preface security answers with a code word (eg: Balloon Fido) they’ll be stopped in their tracks
- If you must write down your passwords, use a reputable password-management tool
- If you receive an email from a bank or credit card company, asking you to update your information by clicking a link, do not click on it or reply to the email. It’s most likely a scam.
- Use an RFID-blocking sleeve for your credit cards