Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud a Danger During the Holidays

By: Justin Leung on November 27, 2012

While most Canadians monitor their credit card and bank statements year round, it’s an especially important precaution to take during the holidays, when incidents of financial fraud become elevated.  That’s the message from identity theft expert Steve Weisman, author of ‘50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age.’ According to Weisman, shoppers should closely  guard their personal information and avoid certain types of transactions altogether.

Weisman suggests Canadians pay close attention to their financial statements for any suspicious activity during the holidays.  Identity thieves are often uncovered as employees at retail stores, sometimes brought on as temporary holiday workers.  The fraudsters retain personal information from customers’ credit cards and use it to make illegal purchases.  In some instances they may also sell the numbers to a third party.

Weisman says Canadians should also be cautious about credit monitoring companies.  These firms offer Canadians monthly credit monitoring services, and require personal information such as a social insurance number to activate the accounts.  The less than reputable companies Weisman warns about convince victims to sign annual or monthly contracts for false credit monitoring reports, and even steal the customers’ identities for fraud in some cases.

The most well-known and highly regarded monitoring companies are Equifax and Trans Union, which provide Canadians an annual credit report at no cost if sent by traditional mail.  Weisman says these firms also install a security freeze on your credit report to prevent third parties from fraudulently accessing it.  These freezes simply prevent any new credit inquiries – legitimate or fraudulent – until the security freeze has been ‘thawed’, which Weisman says can be done within 24 hours. While slightly inconvenient, the freeze does enhance security.

“The only real downside is that you will have to plan a day or two ahead for major purchases that require a credit check, like buying a new car or applying for a mortgage.”

Taken together these precautions can seem onerous but they do provide extra security and peace of mind – something all Canadians could use during the holidays.