Written by Robin Taub
Friday, February 23rd, 2018
Late one afternoon, Janice received a call from a major Canadian bank. A woman had opened an account in her name at a branch in Windsor. Alarm bells went off. Janice lived in Toronto and had never been to Windsor. Nor did she bank with that particular bank. Though no funds were deposited, the woman tried to withdraw money by putting the account into overdraft.
Luckily, the bank noticed the temporary driver's licence used to open the account (along with a Social Insurance Number card and a citizenship card with photo) was missing a digit. With this flagged, they didn't process the withdrawal.
Janice had been the victim of identity theft and fraud – her private identifying information had been fraudulently acquired for financial gain. In 2016, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, there were 9,988 complaints of identity theft and 26,386 complains of identity fraud, resulting in $13.2 million dollars in losses.
"Identity theft, identity fraud, and account takeover fraud, where a consumer's bank profile is accessed, have the largest impact on Canadian consumers," says Cyrus Hojjati, Senior Manager Collections and Fraud Execution Governance at Tangerine. "These are growing due to a growing digital banking sector and the increase in cyber fraud attacks."
The bank called the Windsor police and advised Janice to do the following immediately:
- Contact the credit reporting agencies, TransUnion® and Equifax® (which ironically, experienced a very high profile security breach in 2017) and ask them to put a fraud alert on her file
- Ask each agency to send her a copy of her credit report
- Contact Toronto police to report the incident
Janice also called her own bank to have an alert put on her account and reviewed her bank and credit card accounts for any suspicious activity.
According to the Government of Canada, if you're the victim of identity theft or fraud, "contact each organization that provided the identity thief with unauthorized credit, money, information, goods or services in your name, and ask them to investigate the occurrence as well as cancel and close all fraudulent or affected cards or accounts."  You're also encouraged to report the incident to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Two months later, a TransUnion report indicated that another account had been opened fraudulently, this time at another bank in Windsor. Janice was told by the branch that there was "no account activity and it would be handled." But four months later, she was contacted by the bank regarding an overdraft of approximately $1,200 in the fraudulent account. After repeated attempts to resolve the issue to no avail, the overdraft was eventually written off as a bad debt. It showed up on Janice's credit report.
Impact and Resolution
Meanwhile, Janice was looking to buy a house and had completed a mortgage application at her bank, but was having trouble getting approved. "I became concerned that the bad debt could have a negative impact on my credit rating, so I continued to try to get the bank to strike it from my credit report," Janice explained.
Although she didn't need a police report, the bank asked her to sign an affidavit confirming the facts of the situation. After many phone calls and emails back and forth with the bank, Janice escalated the issue to bank's Office of the Ombudsman, who was finally able to absolve the bad debt and restore her financial reputation. The matter was finally put to rest when she confirmed the debt absolution with Equifax and TransUnion.
"Consumers should not be discouraged from banking and transacting in our digital age of technology and transformation," says Cyrus Hojjati. "With the right amount of due diligence, the exposure to fraud can be reduced."
- Be aware of where you're inputting your personal or banking information. Using unsecured websites and public Wi-Fi locations increases your exposure to criminals looking to obtain your information.
- Review the network and device security of all devices you use for banking, and make sure you have the most up-to-date anti-virus and firewall applications. Ensure you are only entering your personal information and/or accessing online banking from secure networks and websites. Identify your device as a secured device so that you are alerted via email and/or text about all logins from unknown devices.
- Check your bank and credit card accounts at least monthly, and report any suspicious activity immediately. This is quick and easy to do using online or mobile banking.
- Implement strong passwords with special characters and periodically change them.
- Review your credit reports periodically and sign up for alerts on all inquiries into your credit history with the credit reporting agencies.
- Store your Social Insurance Number card and other identity documents like a passport or birth certificate in a secure place — don't carry them around in your wallet.
- Be aware of unsolicited emails (phishing), text messages or phone calls attempting to extract personal or financial information. Criminals can even leverage your voice responses to circumvent voice biometrics security.
- Shred unsolicited mail, especially credit card offers and documentation with personal or banking information (i.e. statements).
"To this day, I'm still not sure how my Social Insurance Number was compromised since I didn't physically misplace or lose the card. But I'm much more vigilant now about protecting myself," says Janice.
Equifax is a registered trademark of Equifax Canada Co.
TransUnion is a registered trademark of Trans Union LLC