Ho, ho, ho… protect yourself from identity theft

The final shopping days before Christmas may prove to be the most lucrative for identity thieves, warn Canadian privacy commissioners.

The final shopping days before Christmas may prove to be the most lucrative for identity thieves, warn Canadian privacy commissioners.

“People who are out to commit identity theft — or theft of any kind — are more active this time of year because people are busy and can be more careless,” said Tracy-Anne McPhee, the Yukon’s information and privacy commissioner.

For starters, refrain from going to the mall with your birth certificate and Social Insurance Number, say privacy officials.

“These sensitive numbers are extremely valuable to identity thieves,” says a release by the federal, BC and Alberta privacy commissioners.

Illegal card readers have recently come to the fore as new tools in the scammer arsenal, they warn.

Consumers need to beware of shop clerks “double swiping” their card; clandestinely re-swiping a customer’s card through an illegal card reader that records their personal information, say privacy officials.

And there are other scams too.

Over the weekend, a Yukoner was called by an individual supposedly representing an southern-based electronics store, who was requesting credit card information to “complete an order.”

Recently, another Yukoner who was selling their house privately almost became the victim of an elaborate scam perpetrated from overseas. The seller was told they were to be forwarded a large sum of money as a deposit for the house, a portion of the deposit was then to be forwarded to a “business associate,” who would then fly up and complete the purchase.

“They send a bogus cheque, and then you send (the ‘associate’) a smaller amount — and then you’re on the hook for that smaller amount,” said Sgt. Mark Groves, media liaison for the Whitehorse RCMP.

However, impaired driving and cocaine seizures, not fraud, have been the primary seasonal focus for Yukon RCMP, said Groves.

The majority of Canadian fraud cases, due to their national and international scope, are handled by Phonebusters, a national anti-fraud phone centre, and not by local police forces.

In November, Canadians lost $683,000 to identity theft, said the agency.

Often, incidents of identity theft can be hard to isolate to a particular month or season.

“With identity theft, criminals gather information over a longer period of time and then use it … the effects aren’t immediate,” said McPhee.

Consumers should also be wary of the information they disclose to retailers, say privacy officials.

“It may be the season of giving, but be cautious when it comes to giving out your personal information to retailers,” said an official release.

Stores will often ask for personal information, such as name, address and phone number to inform marketing activities. Legally, retailers can only demand minimal information as a fraud-prevention measure, and “in most cases they should not be recording particularly sensitive information, such as a driver’s licence number,” said an official release.

McAfee, the California-based antivirus software company, opened the Christmas season by listing the “12 scams of Christmas;” a dozen of the yuletide’s most popular rip-off techniques.

Fake charitable e-mails topped the list. Scammers send out e-mails in the guise of a reputable organization, such as the Salvation Army, and unwitting contributors are directed to a dummy website that collects their credit card number and personal information.

For secure online donations, McAfee advises consumers to contribute only through a charity’s official website.

Fake invoices are also gaining in popularity, said McAfee. Internet frauders send out e-mails with invoices for fake packages, and ask for a consumer’s credit card details in order to “confirm delivery.”

The Nintendo Wii Fit was among the 10 most popular products purchased fraudulently by online criminals, reported the UK’s Telegraph this morning.