The Changing Landscape of Identity Theft in Canada

29 October 2015

Before mobile payments and ecommerce or social media and online banking, our personal information was stored on plastic credit cards and paper statements and documents. Unlike the bits of code that now represent our most sensitive personal data on servers thousands of miles away, these tangible items were mostly under our control. Stealing these documents required the same physical action as stealing a wallet or even a television, and therefore protecting them was a physical matter as well. Now, however, as we share our personal data with dozens of devices, apps and websites across the Internet, the nature of identity theft in Canada is evolving, with thieves and fraudsters adapting to the changing digital landscape.

In a case of identity theft, a thief gets access to a victim’s personal information, and then uses it to impersonate him or her, typically for financial gain. In addition to having access to their victims’ credit and debit cards, identity thieves can open new accounts using their victims’ names and Social Insurance Numbers. After maxing out credit cards and accruing years of debt, the fraudsters default, leaving their victims in financial disarray. While the basic framework of identity theft hasn’t changed since we started using credit cards, the ways in which thieves can access our personal data have shifted dramatically, becoming more varied — and easier — than ever.

While telephone scams have been around for decades and remain the most commonly attempted form of identity theft in Canada, they no longer snare the most victims. In 2014, there were 13,757 complaints and 7,334 Canadians victims of email and internet scams. Telephone scams on the other hand received around 8,000 more complaints than email and internet scams, but only snared about 4,500 victims. Similarly, text messaging scams succeeded nearly as many times as attempts in the mail, despite being almost three times less common.

Our digital landscape has changed dramatically and fraudsters take advantage of that. It is much more difficult to identify when you have had your information stolen then it would be if you had your physical credit card taken from your wallet. For example, even just entering a fraudulent website can compromise your security, even if you never enter personal information.

To help you stay in the know, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. These companies can alert you to certain activity in your credit file that might indicate fraud, allowing you and your bank to take both preventative and corrective action as soon as possible.