Corporal Tim Laurence, RCMP Integrated Counterfeit Enforcement Team
John Russo, Vice President, Legal and Senior Privacy Officer, Equifax Canada
Staff Sergeant Paul Lobsinger, Fraud Branch, Waterloo Region Police Services
Brad Brain, CFP, CLU, Senior Financial Advisor, Manulife Securities Inc., Fort St. John, B.C.
George is a 56-year-old consultant in Waterloo, Ont. He and his wife, Ann, have two university-aged children. They’re financially stable, have one credit card they pay in full every month, and $100,000 remaining on their mortgage. Their daughter, Stephanie, attends university in Montreal.
Recently, George started receiving collection calls for delinquent charges on credit cards he doesn’t own. His identity has been stolen.
George and Ann pay bills in full and on time, so when a collections department called, they assumed it was an error. But George kept receiving calls from credit-card companies he’s never done business with. The couple always tossed documents offering pre-authorized credit cards without shredding them. He also noticed $1,200 missing from a bank account.
- George and Ann’s stellar credit rating is in jeopardy. They didn’t know how much damage had been done or how to restore it.
- The couple established a joint bank account with Stephanie so they could easily deposit funds for tuition and living expenses. Because a tuition payment was due, Ann had contacted the bank to waive the daily maximum until the payment came out. But Stephanie didn’t withdraw the $1,200.
- After checking their credit report, they found five bogus credit cards in George’s name, with more than $100,000 outstanding.
John Russo, chief privacy officer for Equifax Canada, says many consumers have no idea their identities have been compromised until collection calls start.
“The first thing to do is request a copy of your credit file,” he says. “Review it carefully, and report any discrepancies for investigation and resolution.”
Check out tips on preventing ID theft, and what to do when your SIN
Equifax had 7,500 fraud victim notifications on its accounts in 2000. By the end of 2012, they had issued 28,651, a 24% increase from 2011. A consumer must pass through several levels of authentication such as confirming employment information, previous addresses and filing a sworn affidavit with the agency before a fraud alert is placed on his account.
Corporal Tim Laurence of the RCMP Integrated Counterfeit Enforcement Team recommends consumers who suspect they have been victims of identity theft first contact the police and then the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. They should complete an Identity Theft Statement to provide to every credit agency, in addition to police reports. Get the form online at: www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca.
Working through a credit-reporting agency, George and Ann were able to prove they’d never applied for the delinquent credit cards. They reported the theft to the police, obtained copies of their credit reports and contacted each credit card issuer. They provided copies of the Identity Theft Statements and police reports to all credit card issuers, and were able to show their signatures didn’t match the applications. Russo notes each credit-issuing agency has a different procedure. Consumers may have to provide additional information to the creditor’s security department to prove identity.
An ID monitoring service says it can take up to 600 hours of effort over three years to restore a stolen identity. “The hardest piece to replace is your SIN—it defines you as a Canadian resident and citizen. You can’t just change it—it’s tied to years of personal history.”
Staff Sergeant Paul Lobsinger, who serves on the fraud squad of the Waterloo Region Police, adds there are terms and conditions about the use of a debit card PIN that determines whether a bank covers an unauthorized withdrawal. “If the bank rules the PIN was generally known, it may not absorb the loss, leaving the consumer on the hook.”
In this case, Stephanie gave her boyfriend her ATM card and PIN number to pick up pizza. Because she’d given him permission, the bank refused to refund the withdrawal amount.
Brad Brain, senior financial advisor with Manulife Securities, says identity theft is less likely to impact investment accounts due to compliance and identity verification requirements.
Read: 7 tips to fight fraud
George’s advisor confirmed the investment holdings were intact. However, George and Ann’s credit card was frozen while the investigation was conducted. The $1,200 had to be replaced by liquidating some assets to provide tuition fees, and cover the legal costs of restoring his credit rating. Consumers will need sworn affidavits to accompany their documentation, which can cost more than $100 to prepare and the fees vary depending on the complexity of the case. Each credit-granting agency will require an original.
The couple worked closely with their advisor, credit-reporting agency and lawyer to provide the proof necessary to clear their names and restore their credit. They bought a crosscut shredder and now destroy all credit offers and financial documents. They are still working through some of the bogus charges, but see the end in sight.
Meanwhile, Stephanie refused to press charges against her boyfriend—there was no proof he stole the $1,200, and he wasn’t smart enough to pull off the credit card fraud. She took a part-time job to pay back the missing funds, but ended the relationship when he stole $500 from her best friend.
Lisa MacColl is an Ontario-based financial writer.