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Financial Fitness: Take steps to prevent identity theft: secure, shred, protect

Identity theft is a big problem. How big? Consider this: In 2014, almost 15,000 Canadians were victimized and defrauded of a total of $74 million, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. How can you protect yourself from becoming a statistic?

Secure your SIN.

Identity thieves eagerly seek Social Insurance numbers — so don’t give out yours to anyone who asks for it. In fact, as a general rule, be reluctant to give it out at all. Always ask whomever you’re dealing with if they will accept another form of identification or at the very least will take just the last three digits of your number. And never carry your Social Insurance card with you.

Shred credit card offers and bank statements.

If you’re not going to apply for credit cards offered to you, shred the offers. Identity thieves have been known to go through garbage, fill out credit card offers and take advantage of them.

At the same time, shred all statements containing personal or financial information that you no longer need.

Study your credit card bills and chequing account statements.

Question any credit card charge or chequing account activity you don’t recognize as your own. Call your credit card company to report the questionable charge.

Don’t give out your credit card number unless you’re initiating a purchase.

Many of us shop online. As long as you’re dealing with a reputable merchant who uses a secure site — i.e., one that has “https” in the web
address — you should be fairly confident that your credit card information will be protected. Never give out your credit card number to people or businesses that, unsolicited, try to sell you something over the phone or Internet.

Protect your passwords.

Do you use a password to log onto your computer? If so, don’t share it with anyone, outside perhaps your most trusted family members. And use a strong password – one that doesn’t contain your real name or even a complete word that could be used to identify you. Also, it doesn’t hurt to periodically change your password, whether it’s for your computer log-on or for entry to any of your financial or consumer accounts.

Even after taking these steps, you could still run into identity theft. That’s why you need to watch for certain signs, such as the arrival of unexpected credit cards or account statements, denials of credit for no clear reason, or calls or letters regarding purchases you didn’t make. If any of these things happen to you, you may want to place a “fraud alert” on your credit reports and review them carefully.

Two national credit-reporting companies – Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada – keep records of your credit history. If someone has misused your personal or financial information, contact one of the companies and add a fraud alert to your credit report. This will alert creditors to call you before approving credit applications. (For more information on placing a fraud alert, visit the website of either company.)

You can help preserve your good name from those who want to misuse it – so, stay vigilant.

Deborah Leahy is an Investment Advisor with Edward Jones. Member CIPF, deborah.leahy@edwardjones.com

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