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Guard yourself against identity theft

When Jeff Green (not his real name) took his dog for a walk to get the mail in early January, he could have expected a belated Christmas card, some pizza flyers or maybe even a magazine. Instead he got a new credit card and a bill for two accounts he never opened.

Over the next week, he received several more credit cards and bills totalling almost $19,000 in purchases made over a three-day Christmas shopping spree. Unfortunately for Green, none of them made it under the tree. He was a victim of identity theft.

"You hear about it on TV and see it on the news," he says. "You just never expect it will happen to you."

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But it could very easily happen to you, so read on to find out how to protect yourself from identity theft.

What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it to commit forgery, fraud or theft. Though not a new crime, the prevalence of the Internet and other electronic technologies such as Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) and debit cards has made it easier for criminals to steal and create identities.

While almost all information that identifies you can be mined to create or assume an identity, it's the data we carry in our wallets every day that puts us most at risk.

"It's very simple," says Barry Elliott, Ontario provincial police detective staff-sergeant and co-coordinator of Phonebusters, the Canadian anti-fraud call centre. "All thieves need is your name, date of birth and an address. That's all you need to victimize someone."

Of course having your Social Insurance Number (SIN), credit card number and expiry date, bank account number and PIN, driver's licence number, health card number, passport or birth certificate can help make the assumption of your identity complete.

Having never lost his wallet or made any unsecured purchases over the Internet, Green believes he was the victim of skimming, whereby his debit card was swiped, probably at a gas station, through an electronic device called a skimmer.

The skimmer recorded his personal information encoded on the card's magnetic strip -- in this case Green's name, address and PIN -- and then transferred the data to thieves 150 kilometres away.

However there are many creative ways thieves can steal your identity, such as peering over your shoulder to get your PIN while you're at a bank machine, stealing your purse or wallet and rummaging through your garbage for bank and credit card statements.


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-- Posted: Jan. 17, 2005
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