Identity theft is incredibly frightening and increasingly common. Identity thieves can access your bank accounts, credit cards, and more. We’ll give you 6 practical tips to protect against this awful crime.
1. Guard your Social Insurance Number

Many businesses act like it’s their right to demand your Social Insurance Number (SIN) whenever they feel like it. It’s not.
Be very selective about who you give this number to, because a Social Insurance Number is the holy grail for identity thieves.
Where possible, offer to supply another identifying number instead, such as your driver’s license number.
If contest forms ask for your SIN number, write in the space that you’ll provide the number if you win.
Work and tax-related dealings usually do require your SIN number, as do credit checks. That’s legitimate. But even then, you can ask to withhold your number until you’re offered the job.

2. Leave your cards at home

Never carry around your SIN card. Memorize the number and keep the actual card at home or in a safe-deposit box.
Don’t carry around any other identification card that includes your SIN. That way, if you lose your purse or wallet, you’re better protected against identity theft.

3. Get updated privacy software

Don’t use unlicensed or expired spyware guards, firewalls, or anti-virus programs, as they aren’t eligible for software updates.
There’s a reason frequent updates are important: identity thieves are constantly finding new ways around existing software to get into hard drives and steal your passwords or financial data.
For extra security, put password protection on files that contain sensitive personal information like your credit card or bank account numbers. Just click the help button on your computer and follow the instructions.

4. Check for credit trouble without paying

Canadian residents have free access to their own credit reports. What’s more, you’re entitled to a free report right away if you’ve been denied credit or if you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
To order a free credit report, contact the individual credit bureaus directly.
If you spot an irregularity on one of your credit reports, ask the credit-reporting company to place a fraud alert on your report right away.

5. Trash the junk mail

Most of your junk mail will disappear if you opt out of marketing offers originating from companies you’re already doing business with.
Look for small print in the bills between May and July, when the companies are required to inform you about how to stop receiving pitches.

6. Choose a strong online password

Just as you wouldn’t give your ATM code to a stranger, it’s just as important to protect your online passwords.

Birthdays, kids’ names, anniversaries… forget it. These are the first bits of data that thieves and hackers go to when trying to break into your accounts.
Don’t think that spelling your spouse’s name (or any other easy password) backwards will work either. Hackers have programs that will detect words spelled out both backwards and forwards.
Don’t use one password for all of your accounts. If online thieves happen upon just one, you’re in big trouble.
Choose passwords that have both letters and numbers. You can also use a password that’s not even a real word by jumbling up some letters and numbers.
Change your passwords frequently.

Identity theft is a very serious problem, and it’s only becoming more widespread. You don’t need to be paranoid, you just need to be smart. Use these tips judiciously to help prevent becoming a victim. Be safe out there!

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