Identity Theft Online



Cecilia Tsang

Financial Advisor & Associate Portfolio Manager


Identity Theft OnlineJust last week, a good friend of mine told me that his bank account had been compromised. He received several PayPal withdrawals that he didn’t authorize and thousands of his funds were gone. Two weeks earlier, a client told me that when she had applied for additional financing, she was told that her credit rating was very poor, when it previously had been excellent. It turns out that someone had pretended to be her and racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt. It seems like every other week, a friend, client, or colleague tells me about an incident like this. More than one of my clients have had their email addresses hacked into with someone pretending to be them and attempting to get access to their money. As these are no longer only cautionary tales and are happening to us all the time, what can we do to try to prevent this?

The first step is to always think about the big picture for every action you take. Always remember that some people’s professions are to prey on you for all the information they can find. It is my personal belief that some of these fraudsters are actually people you may know… maybe not that well, but they know who you are, which makes it much easier for them to find out more information about you.

One of the most common ways businesses identify you is by using your birthdate. These days, birthdates are posted online for everyone to see. Yes, your year of birth may not be posted, but if you are celebrating a big birthday, won’t everyone in the extended circle immediately know the year you are born? Or somebody from high school could easily figure out your birth year as they were one of the potentially hundreds of people who went to your high school and know your graduation year. It may be nice for every- one to wish you a happy birthday but just know that there could be consequences.

We all know the basics of protecting our identification and sensitive data: to keep an eye on our wallets, to check the credit card statements for suspicious transactions, and to shred any documents that could reveal personal information instead of simply recycling them or throwing them out. But is it enough in this age when the criminals are increasingly moving their operations online and are becoming more and more sophisticated in their field?

Make sure you receive all your mail without interruption. Periodically verify the mailing address the post office and financial institutions have on file. Not only could documents be physically stolen from your mailbox, but somebody could remotely request your mail to be diverted.

Be wary of spoofed e-mails, websites and ads. These are the e-mails and websites that mimic legitimate financial institutions, online shops, government or charities – essentially websites of      any entities where you would normally be expected to enter your personal information. Whether you are taken to the website via a link in an e-mail or via a paid advertising banner, check the
domain name very carefully and exercise extreme caution if it does not match the brand name exactly.

Be aware of ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block the computer and restore access only after a requested sum is collected. Do not click on any potentially malicious attachments or links as this is the most common way of spreading ransomware. Back up your data often.

Be aware of cybercrime attacking electronic data stored online. Clear your login and password details on your computer; change passwords often, be careful to not share too much of your personal information on social media.

What are the consequences?
Once identity thieves gain access to personal information, they can purchase items on your credit card, open new credit cards or increase credit limits on existing ones, or even receive government benefits and file a fraudulent tax return in your name. It may take years to clean up the mess; the stress of not knowing who may be pretending to be you in the future may severely impact your quality of life in the long term.

Periodic credit record monitoring
We highly recommend that you take advantage of free Consumer Disclosure reports to monitor your credit. You can order these reports once a year at no cost through credit bureaus Equifax
or Transunion.

You will receive the reports listing all the information on your credit file (your credit score is NOT a part of this free report). Please carefully check each account listed, paying close attention to the credit limit amount. Close all cards and accounts that you are not planning on using, you forgot about, etc. Make sure to contact Equifax or Transunion right away if you find any errors or inconsistencies.

Identity has been compromised – what’s next? In the unfortunate event of becoming a victim of any form of identity theft, contacting both of these major credit bureaus should be done immediately. Let them know your identity has been compromised and request that they place a "Fraud Warning" on your file right away, so that no new credit can be issued by identity thieves without your knowledge.

It is extremely important to report fraud because it is one of the best ways authorities can gather evidence to bring down the criminals and better protect people and businesses. They would be better equipped to be respond to innovative fraud techniques in order to warn the general public in a timely manner, which would prevent many more cases.

We hope you find this information useful and wish you and your family peace of mind.
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