Credit reports

One important step to protecting yourself from identity theft is to get your credit reports from both Canadian credit-reporting agencies every year.

The agencies are Equifax and Trans Union Canada.

When you get the reports look for anything that isn't yours. This sounds obvious but these reports can be difficult to understand.

In particular, look for credit inquiries where someone has applied for credit in your name. Every time someone applies for credit, whether they get it or not, your credit rating goes down.

Also -- look for loans or credit cards that aren't yours. Scammers will often get a credit card in your name, use it for about a year, paying all the bills and then when the limit is high enough, cash in with a wild shopping spree and disappear.

"It's a bit like whack-a-mole at the PNE -- where is the problem going to show up and you have to react to wherever it shows up," explained Jeff Burton with the BC Crime Prevention Association.

If you find anything you are unsure of -- contact the credit bureau right away.

Early signs of ID theft

The first sign something is wrong is often when a person receives a call from a collection agency or a company asking about an unpaid bill.

People will often just ignore the call, assuming it's a wrong number or the wrong person. That's a mistake.

Burton says this may be a symptom of a bigger picture.

"We all hope that it's going to be a single event, an isolated case," Burton said. "But it could be a sign of a bigger problem, that someone has literally taken over your identity."

Here are some early warning signs:

  • Credit card or utility bills do not arrive when they should
  • You get denied credit for no apparent reason when applying for a loan or credit card
  • Your drivers license, passport, birth certificate or social insurance card go missing
  • You receive bills or invoices for things you never ordered
  • There are transactions you don't recognize on your bank or credit card statements

And be careful -- even small bills can be signs of identity theft.

"Fraudsters who steal credit card numbers will often want to test the waters to see if the card is still good," Burton said.

"They will do that by making it look insignificant by charging a very small amount, might be less than five dollars."

That's why you need to look over your credit card and bank statements line by line -- don't just look at the totals.

You might be surprised where your wallet and ID are most at risk of being stolen.

We've seen the warnings in food fair malls and restaurants -- that's why you aren't supposed to hang your purse or jacket loose over the back of your chair.

Theft at work is also commonplace.

Identity thieves will take every opportunity to steal something from your wallet or your purse. They could be a co-worker, a customer or someone passing through.

Being denied credit is also a great tip off because once identity thieves get enough information on you they'll start applying for credit cards in your name.

Every time they apply -- whether they get a credit card or not -- that lowers your credit rating. So if you are denied credit, get your credit report from both credit rating agencies -- Equifax and Trans Union Canada and specifically check for credit inquiries.

If you find inquiries you didn't make -- inform them right away that you are a victim of identity theft.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Chris Olsen