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Making privacy a concern protects against identity fraud

By: Sean P. Young

  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2012 06:58 pm

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Const. Francine Hennelly has seen plenty of shameless deeds during her time as an RCMP officer in Airdrie, and she said identity thieves are no exception.

“They can be rather unsophisticated, such as dumpster diving for personal information,” said Hennelly.

April 29 to May 5 marks Privacy Awareness Week, an international awareness effort promoted in Australia, Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, the United States and Canada. In Canada, the campaign looks to strengthen understanding of Canadians’ privacy rights and for private sector organizations to understand their responsibilities in protecting consumers’ private information.

Hennelly said of the 153 cases of fraud Airdrie RCMP investigated last year, many included an online element; and with the rapid increase of social networking sites in our daily lives, thieves don’t have to always rummage through trash for personal information, they just log onto Facebook.

“It’s very important for people not to put any personal information out on the Internet,” Hennelly said.

Criminals search for any bit of information they can get their hands on. They look for potential victims’ date of birth, home address, mother’s maiden name, passwords, pin numbers, driver’s licence numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, signatures, and passport numbers, Hennelly said.

With just a few bits of private information, criminals can gain access to a person’s bank account or open a new bank account in the victim’s name. The thieves can also transfer bank balances and apply for loans or credit cards, as well as make purchases, said Hennelly.

“They can hide their criminal activity under your name, and they can receive passports or government benefits as well,” she added.

Hennelly said Airdrie RCMP investigates plenty of complaints from Airdronians who are harassed over the phone, sometimes by potential identity thieves searching for information or passwords.

“Sometimes it’s someone claiming to be working for a computer or tech company requesting information,” Hennelly said.

“One that reoccurs regularly is a trick where someone claiming to be the person’s nephew or son calls requesting money because they are in prison somewhere in the world.”

Hennelly said identity thieves often target the elderly or the less technologically savvy, and that technology has actually made it more difficult for the RCMP to track down and prosecute identity criminals.

“It makes it very hard for us, I’ll be very honest,” she said.

She advised Airdronians to visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre’s (CAFC) website, www.antifraudcentre.ca, to view a list of the latest identity scams and statistics being reported in Canada. The site also provides plenty of useful tips that can help protect residents from becoming a victim of identity fraud.

One of the latest scams being tracked by the CAFC is called “scareware” that involves computers being frozen or locked out by a pop-up message, which warns the user their computer has been associated with child pornography. The messages fraudulently claim to be from the RCMP or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and tell the user to pay $100 to an online money transfer site called Ukash. Sophisticated scams like this have opened up a whole new international market for identity thieves and online scam artists, Hennelly said.

Anyone who believes they may be a victim of an attempted identity scam should contact RCMP and file a report; they should also contact their financial institution and credit card company, and call Equifax or TransUnion Canada to place a fraud alert on their account, Hennelly said.

For more information and resources on Privacy Awareness Week, visit priv.gc.ca


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