Canadians treasure their identities. It’s who they are, what they’ve worked for and achieved, the essence of their reputations. Having it stolen can be financially as well as psychologically devastating.
Identity thieves often use personal information such as a person’s name, address and social insurance number to open credit card accounts, buy cars, rent apartments or even engage in criminal activity.
Equifax, one of the world’s leading consumer and business credit ratings and data collection companies, sees the consequences of identity theft every day.
John Russo, vice-president, legal counsel and chief privacy officer at Equifax Canada, says that for most victims, recovering from identity theft is a long and difficult process.
“Rehabilitating a stolen identity can take months or even years,” he says. “It’s a long and complicated process, involving law enforcement agencies, credit bureaus, the companies that sold products or services to the identity thief and anyone else who may have been touched by the thief’s actions.”
While personal carelessness can lead to identity theft, the increased incidence of data breaches, over which individuals have no control, is adding to the risk.
Mr. Russo points out that such data breaches are now “a fact of life” in Canada, with serious consequences. He says that about one in four Canadians whose personal information is compromised through of a data breach subsequently becomes a victim of fraud. As a result, people are increasingly attracted to businesses that protect their privacy.
“Businesses should have tools in place to ensure the identity of the person they are dealing with and not some fraudster impersonating him,” he says.
Mr. Russo advises people whose identity may have been compromised to take three immediate steps:
Contact the police and file an affidavit.
Contact the institution where they’ve been compromised and let it know, so that an investigation can begin.
Contact both credit bureaus in Canada, Equifax and Trans-Union, which can monitor any suspicious activity in a person’s name.
Tara Zecevic, Equifax’s vice president of technology solutions, says that although identity theft involving individuals is in the headlines, companies are often victims, and in most cases they have little chance of recovering.
“Individuals are not typically responsible for a debt incurred in their name by an identity thief,” she says. “However, businesses generally have a tough time recovering their financial losses and will often simply write them off as a cost of doing business, which of course pushes up the cost of goods and services for all consumers.”
Ms. Zecevic adds that businesses can protect their interests by using multiple layers of defence, including carrying our careful identity verification and authentication of personal data.
For individuals, organizations such as Equifax also offer identity theft insurance, which can cover costs such as legal fees and lost earnings as a result of taking time off work to rehabilitate an identity.
Ms. Zecevic says the best defence by far is for people to protect their personal information, particularly online. They should immediately report the loss of any documents, cheque books or credit cards, as well as report any online activity that may have compromised their identity.