Q: I had my wallet stolen from my car last week, which contained all of my identification and credit cards. I called my bank and credit card companies right away before the thief had a chance to use my cards. I have replaced these cards and am now going through the painful process of replacing the rest of my identification; what a hassle! I’m worried that I could become a victim of fraud, what should I do to protect myself?
A: Identification theft and fraud is a growing problem in Canada and everyone needs to protect themselves from this threat. You did the right thing by reporting this theft to your bank and credit card companies right away. As long as you report the theft within 24 hours, most credit card companies will not hold you personally responsible for any fraudulent purchases on your account.
How to Protect Yourself After Your Identification has been Stolen
To protect yourself from the possibility of having your identity compromised, you should consider taking the following action:
- Contact the local police department where the theft occurred and file a report. Filing a police report will help you in the event someone attempts to obtain a credit card in your name in the future and then puts you in the difficult position of having to prove that it wasn’t you.
- File a Fraud and Identity Theft Report with the two credit bureaus in Canada; Equifax Canada and Trans Union of Canada. They will insert a warning on your credit file outlining that creditors should contact you directly to confirm any application for credit. Check your credit report each year (you can do this for free) to make sure that everything is okay.
- You can also place your own message on your credit report. This space is reserved to allow you to provide your side of the story for anything that appears on your credit report. You can use this space to write something like, “My identification was stolen on November 7, 2011. Please contact [your first and last name] before granting any new credit.” This way if a fraud artist tries to apply for new credit cards either online or through the mail, a credit card company receiving an application will be extra careful to make sure that it really is you applying for the new credit card.
- Carefully review your bank and credit card statements each month and investigate any purchases you do not recognize.
How to Prevent or Minimize Harm from Identity & Credit Card Theft
Going forward, carry minimal identification with you. In most situations, your driver’s license, ATM card and 1 major credit card are all that are usually necessary; the rest of your identification and other credit cards should be safely stored at your home.
If you need to lock your wallet in your car, do not leave it in open view; you’re just asking for trouble if you do. When you are shopping, buying gas or taking funds out of an ATM, make sure no one can see you enter your personal identity number. Always shred old credit card receipts, cheques and other documents containing personal information instead of putting them in the trash.
Spending a few extra minutes each month taking precautions is a small price to pay to keep your identity and assets safe.
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