By Carla Hindman
PRIDE Financial Columnist
A generation ago, most families didn’t think about financial fraud. Today, it can come in many forms – over the phone, through the mail and increasingly, online. It’s an equal opportunity crime that affects consumers of all ages.
This March marks the 12th anniversary of Fraud Prevention Month (FPM) in Canada. FPM raises awareness about fraud, while helping Canadians learn how to recognize, reject and report it. To combat fraud, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada launched the ‘No Surprises’ campaign to help Canadians understand their financial rights and responsibilities.
When your personal financial information gets into the wrong hands, the consequences can be devastating. It’s important to understand how identity theft and card fraud can happen to you. Here are some simple steps you can take to minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or card fraud:
- Treat your cards as if they were cash – don’t leave cards out in places where others can gain easy access to them
- Don’t disclose personal information about your finances – do not share information such as bank account details, credit cards, social insurance numbers, etc. to any business unless you can verify that it’s legitimate
- Check your billing statement, and verify the amounts of your purchases – look for any transactions you don’t recognize and report them immediately to your financial institution
- Check your credit report regularly. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months. It’s a good idea to request your report from TransUnion or Equifax at least annually to ensure your financial profile is correct
- Practice safe Internet use: Delete spam emails that ask for personal information, and keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up-to-date. Shop online only with secure web pages (check the bottom of your browser for an image of a lock or look for “https” in the address bar). Never send credit or debit card numbers, social insurance numbers and other personal information via email.
- Use secure passwords. Don’t use passwords like your pet’s name or your birthday – they are easily guessable – and make sure to change your passwords regularly.
- Destroy Personal Financial Records: Dumpsters are a main source of information for identity thieves. Tear up or shred banking statements, loan solicitations, and any other documents that contain personal financial information.
- Be careful with your Social Insurance number: Your social insurance number is a major target for identity thieves because it can give them access to your credit report and bank accounts. Never carry your card with you. Instead, memorize your number and keep the card in a secure place at home or in a safe deposit box.
- Beware of scams Always be on the defensive with your financial information. Never give out personal information to telemarketers or respond to emails from someone claiming to represent your bank, Credit Card Company, a government agency, a charity, or other organization. If you think the request is legitimate, contact the company directly to confirm their claims.
- Report lost or stolen cards immediately to the financial institution that issued the card – the sooner your financial institution knows about a lost or stolen card, the sooner they can block the account
For more tips for protecting your personal and account information and preventing fraud, visit: The Canadian AntiFraud Centre (www.antifraudcentre.ca/http://www.centreantifraude.ca) and Visa’s Security Sense site (www.visasecuritysense.ca), which contains tips on preventing fraud online, in stores and at ABMs, spotting deceptive marketing practices, and more.
Bottom Line: If you should fall victim to fraud, it is important that you act quickly. Contacting the correct agencies and filing the necessary reports will go a long way toward minimizing any damage to your financial well-being.
Carla Hindman directs the Practical Money Skills program for Visa Canada. More budgeting and personal finance tips can be found at www.practicalmoneyskills.ca. As always, consult a financial professional regarding your particular situation.