Prevent identity theft online

March 2008

Identity theft occurs when someone takes information about you and pretends to be you for fraudulent purposes. If you are a victim, the consequences are serious – you can be denied a driver's licence, a student loan, cell phone service. It can take years to undo the damage.

Every year, thousands of people are victims of identity theft. Increasingly, young people are becoming prime targets because it's easy for identity thieves to find and steal their information. Providing our personal information online makes our lives easier, but it also makes it easier for identity thieves to scoop that information and use it for criminal purposes.

No one's saying you need to stay off the Internet to ward off data thieves, but you should keep the following in mind when you're online:

Give out as little information about you as possible. If you are being asked for your birthdate, real email address, or other details, ask why. Don't provide it if you don't have to.

Only provide sensitive personal information (including financial information like credit card numbers and bank account numbers) through secure means. If you're filling out an online form, look for the padlock in the bottom right corner of you screen. Don't ever send your information in an email.

Be ultra-careful with your Social Insurance Number (SIN). It's an important key to your identity, especially in credit reports and computer databases.

Know how your personal information will be used. Ask if you don't.

Choose difficult passwords. Don't use your boyfriend's name, your pet's name or your phone number. Strengthen your password by using a combination of numbers, upper-case letters, lower-case letters and symbols like #, $, %, and !

Identity theft and social networking sites

Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are great for keeping in touch with friends, but can also be a goldmine for identity thieves. Using information you provide about yourself, fraudsters can potentially take on your identity. You can take steps to prevent online identity theft online by restricting who can view your personal information online to people you know:

Read and understand the privacy policies. They tell you what happens to your personal information and what privacy options you have.

Use the privacy controls available. Sites like Facebook provide you with some level of control over your personal information. For instance, you can restrict who can see your full profile and photos of you, and who can find you in a search. You can also hide your list of friends from people who find you through a search. Experiment with them to find what works best for you.

Don't accept friend requests from people you don't know in real life. Online, how do you know they are who they say they are?

Be discreet about what you post online. Think about what information you're putting out there, and the implications of it. A photo of you and your friends hanging out, for instance, could reveal a lot – like where you live, where you go to school, or the car you drive.

For more information, visit the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada's Web site: www.priv.gc.ca.

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