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Identity theft on the rise

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(Special) - Identity theft has been around for years, but with the proliferation of the internet, computers, smart phones and social media, the threat of this crime has become even greater and more widespread.

The Office of the Privacy Commission of Canada identifies identity theft as the unauthorized collection and use of your personal information, usually for criminal purposes.

Your name, date of birth, address, credit card, social insurance number, drivers' license and other personal identification can be used to open credit card and bank accounts, redirect mail, establish cellular phone service, rent vehicles, equipment, or accommodation, and even secure employment.

If this happens, you could be left with the bills, charges, bad cheques, and taxes.

Every year, thousands of people become victims of identity theft. A 2013 report by computer/internet security firm Norton shows that 68 per cent of adults in Canada and 61 per cent globally in 24 countries have experienced cybercrime in their lifetime. The cost of cybercrime over the last 12 months is about US$3 billion a year in Canada and US$113 billion globally.

Identity theft appears to be highest among millennials (people born between about 1980 and 2000 who also are high users of computers and mobile devices), with seventy per cent of this demographic group having been victims of cybercrime in their lifetime.

There are a number of signs to watch for which can alert you that you might be a victim of identity theft such as unauthorized banking or credit card activity, unauthorized access to online accounts including email and social media, not receiving your regular mail and receiving mail that you weren't expecting, like a new credit.

Other signs to look for include getting unusual treatment by financial institutions such as being denied a loan or high loan rates, receiving calls or invoices for purchases that you didn't make, the existence of property liens that you had no knowledge about and activity on your credit report that you can't account for.

We may not think of it, but the glove-boxes in our vehicles are treasure troves for criminals and gold-mines for identity theft. Criminals can access your address through your insurance card and vehicle permit.

With that information, you could have a surprise guest, especially if a garage-door opener or spare house key is kept in your vehicle.

A stolen permit also may be used for automotive identity theft. With the information contained on it they may want to ship a stolen car out of the country using that permit. Stolen insurance cards are also used by criminal organizations to make false insurance claims.

The bottom line is that identity thieves are looking for your glove box's contents so they can assume your identity, secure credit card invoices, and even take out a mortgage against your property without your knowledge.

According to Ontario police, the reported incidences of identity theft and fraud are on the rise and increased by five per cent between 2011 and 2012 even though the number of stolen vehicles has been declining over the last decade.

Late last year Ontario's police chiefs launched a province-wide "Lock It or Lose It" campaign designed to warn motorists about the dangers of identity theft resulting from unlocked vehicles or leaving valuables in plain sight. Police officers examined parked vehicles to confirm they were locked and that no valuables had been left in sight and left notices that indicated what safety precautions were neglected and offered simple prevention tips.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada offers the following tips to protect your car and yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.

Always roll up your vehicle's windows, lock the doors and pocket the key. Keep your vehicle registration certificate and proof of insurance with you at all times, never leave valuable objects or packages in full view (put them in the trunk), always park your vehicle in a well-lit spot, be aware of suspicious people or vehicles in your neighbourhood and report them to police.

Also, always lock your vehicle, even if it's sitting in the driveway. Inform police of any activities or vehicles that look suspicious to you, never leave the keys inside your vehicle and know the location of your keys at all times.

Talbot Boggs is a Toronto-based business communications professional who has worked with national news organizations, magazines and corporations in the finance, retail, manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

Copyright 2014 Talbot Boggs

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