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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Minimizing the risk of identity theft

(Special) - Identity theft is a very real and present danger. In the past 12 months some seven million Canadians became victims of identity theft with an average direct cost per victim of US$372.00, according to internet/computer security company Norton.

Identity theft is the result of an unconsented or unknown use of an individual's personal information. It often occurs in conjunction with crimes such as fraud, forgery, or theft. Likely targets for an identity thief can include a Social Insurance Number (SIN), driver's licence number, credit cards, debit cards, cheques, phone cards, passwords, and pin numbers.

In general, identity thieves look for the opportunity to make a transaction and obtain cash, merchandise, or services before their identity can be found or the true information owner can be notified.

Although it may sound simple, the main way of combatting identity theft is to use caution when making any purchase or when otherwise safeguarding your personal information.

Insurance company Marsh offers some tips on how to reduce the threat and risks of identity theft, including insurance to cover some of the costs that can result from becoming a victim.

Identity theft is a generally serious and often costly crime. Insurance for this risk is sometimes included in homeowner insurance policies from certain insurers, but if it is not, an endorsement for identity theft coverage is usually available at a small additional cost.

Identity theft insurance is also generally available through insurers, their insurance brokers, banks, and credit card companies. Typical identity theft coverage includes costs to obtain credit reports, notarize documents, certified mail, telephone, and fax expenses, lost wages due to time taken off work to resolve identity theft issues (up to policy limits), loan reapplication fees, specified legal fees and costs to replace stolen government-issued identifications.

Some institutions will offer credit monitoring services as a way of helping to detect identity fraud in a timely manner. This is a separate service from identity theft insurance.

As with all insurance, it's important to read your policy documentation carefully to understand the exact coverage provided or call your insurance broker for more information.

In general, do not provide personal information to anyone whether in person, over the phone, or on the internet unless you are certain of their identity. "Phishing" scams are now commonplace and usually involve an individual posing as a legitimate business/government representative in hopes of stealing your personal information or even gaining control of your computer.

Question the need for personal information specifically as it relates to your Social Insurance Number (SIN). Only a select number of people need to know your SIN, including your employer, your financial institution, and various government departments. Consult the Service Canada website for a complete listing.

Avoid carrying your SIN card if you don't need it. Leave it in a secure place instead. Be careful that your SIN is not used as the account number for other purposes.

Make sure there is a lock on your mailbox if you still have door-to-door delivery. By stealing your mail, an identity thief can access bank, credit card, and tax information, and even possibly write cheques in your name.

Ensure any sensitive information is shredded and not recycled or put in the trash.

Pay careful attention whenever providing your credit or debit card for payment. "Skimming" is a process whereby your card information may be stolen. Watch to see that your card is only swiped for the purpose of paying for a transaction.

Secure any computers or personal documents in your home. Be aware that anyone with access to your home can potentially steal your personal information.

Only carry the identification and purchase cards you use and keep your wallet or purse in a safe place when not carrying it. If you require new cheques or credit/debit cards consider arranging for a bank pick-up instead of having them mailed. Always sign the signature area of your credit cards as soon as you receive them.

When disposing of old computer equipment or other electronic devices, make sure that your personal information is permanently deleted from the included memory.

Always shield your PIN number when making banking, credit, and debit transactions.

On line, change passwords you use frequently and avoid passwords which use easily findable data such as your mother's maiden name, your birth date or phone number. Use anti-virus software on all of your electronic devices as available and do not send confidential information through email or use your credit card online unless the merchant uses a secure transaction system.

By taking precautions and insurance you can guard yourself against the possibility of identity theft and the costs that can go along with it.

Talbot Boggs is a Toronto-based business communications professional who has worked with national news organizations, magazines and corporations in the finance, retail, manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

Copyright 2014 Talbot Boggs

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