"It is vital that consumers take the initiative to protect their identity. Something as simple as shredding your unneeded personal documents, instead of throwing them in the garbage, can truly make a difference in protecting yourself from identity theft."
Robert Siciliano, CEO of www.IDTheftSecurity.com
It is one of those things we always think will happen to somebody else.
But when it's you who can't access your money, or pay your bills, or finds out that there are two of you it can be a frightening experience.
I well remember the shock and anger I felt when one day I found my bank account empty. Like most people I thought for sure the fault was mine - I hadn't kept track of my spending or some such explanation. But as the hours passed and I began to investigate it I realized that the worst was true. Someone has stolen all my money right out of my account.
How? They stole my mail, which included an account statement from my bank and some returned cheques, and then later a box of new cheques - of course this wouldn't be possible today as banks no longer mail this type of information out.
The bank informed me that I had bought a car. No I hadn't, I explained. Yes I had, said the bank - and it had the cheque to prove it.
Well, I didn't have the car, I told them.
So for several days I had no money and no immediate prospect of getting it back as the bank poured over its paperwork. Then a quick-cash clerk phoned me at home one evening asking my name and so on. It turned out a Clare Ogilvie was standing in front of her trying to cash a cheque to go shopping at the mall.
Sadly, bemoaned the imposter Clare Ogilvie, she had forgotten her ID at home and just needed a little cash, if the clerk would be so kind.
Luckily for me the clerk smelled a rat. But even after I called the bank to explain what happened with the quick-cash clerk, and that it was likely there were pictures of the thief thanks to video surveillance, the authorities weren't really interested.
The theft of my money and for a while my identity, while devastating to me, just wasn't a big deal to them. I changed banks.
As you may have been reading, March is Fraud Prevention Month and so serious is the problem the federal Competition Bureau is doing all it can to get the message across to everyone that people must take steps to stop scammers and prevent the frauds they perpetrate.
Statistics reveal that 35 per cent of Canadians believe they have been victims of mass marketing scams and about $815 million annually is stolen through cheque fraud.
Both Canada and the U.S. are also seeing a growing trend in identity theft. The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimates that identity theft costs the Canadian economy at least $2.5 billion a year.
About 6.5 per cent of Canadian adults, or almost 1.7 million people, were the victim of some kind of identity fraud in 2009.
Victims spent over 20 million hours and more than $150 million to resolve problems associated with these frauds.
More than half of these were unauthorized purchases made with credit cards.
In a world integrated with technology, where online banking and Internet shopping are the norm, it is even more important to stay secure.
RCMP Insp. Kerry Petryshyn is head of major fraud for the RCMP in Ottawa. At a conference on the issue this week, he said that no other crime affects more Canadians. Mass marketing fraud alone accounts for nearly $10 billion in losses every year.
"That's over a million victims," he said, reported the CBC.
"Which is pretty close to the drug industry here in Canada, however (there's) a lot more victims."
Petryshyn also said that authorities believe that about 80 per cent of all fraud in Canada is linked to organized crime.
His advice to the average person:
"(There's a) pretty good chance if somebody's been ripped off they're going to write about it some where. If you query yourself the name or the information and the product you're buying, the company you're dealing with or whatever you have, chances are pretty good if someone's been ripped off they've written about it and you can see that and then use that information."
Like so many things today, a fraud that happens to someone else eventually impacts everyone because in the big picture it destabilizes our economy and strengthens organized crime.
The impact on individuals and families can be intense: it can ruin retirement savings plans, businesses, and in some cases people pay with their lives.
But most fraud can be prevented so stay sharp to stay clear of scams. Two good places to learn more: www. bc.rcmp.ca and http://mbc.bbb.org/