Protecting Yourself From Fraud

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Canadians lose millions of dollars every year to credit and debit card fraud. While the amount stolen has dropped since the heights of 2009, 2013 still saw $29.5 million in debit card fraud alone. Criminals can use stolen personal details to empty your bank accounts and take out credit under your name. You can reduce your risk of having your bank details stolen, and reduce the damage if they are, by taking a few simple precautions.

Check Your Financial Records Regularly

In Canada, you can request as many free credit reports as you want. Equifax and TransUnion will both provide you with a free report, so long as you submit the form by post and receive your report the same way. Your credit report is one of the most important tools you have in stopping fraud, as it will provide details of every source of credit you have. Requesting your free credit report regularly is useful anyway, but this is another great reason to do it. If you see bank loans or credit cards that you didn’t know about, this is a sign of fraud. If you find this kind of evidence of fraud, contact the national credit bureaus to have fraud alerts placed on your credit report.

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You should also contact your bank, credit card companies, and anyone you have a loan with for further advice, and report suspected fraud to your local police department and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Contacting these agencies is extremely important, not only to help bring fraudsters to justice but also to protect your finances. Reporting fraud can get the fraudster’s activity removed from your credit report, and your money refunded by your bank.

The other places to check for fraud are your bank and credit card statements. If you’re budgeting strictly, you should be using your statements to track your spending anyway. Look for any transactions that you can’t account for, especially large withdrawals. Check also for any missing transactions that you know you made. Card details are sometimes stolen using fake card readers. If a transaction doesn’t appear on your statement, this may have happened to you. Be especially careful when looking for signs of fraud for at least the next couple of months.

Protect Your Card Details

Be careful when you’re using ATMs or chip and PIN machines, because this is where thieves tend to strike. Remain alert. When entering your PIN, shield it with your body and your other hand, taking note of anyone that seems to be standing too close to you. A thief may read your PIN over your shoulder as you enter it and then steal your card from you as you leave. Alternatively, store staff may steal your card details by swiping your card through a fake card reader, or by swiping twice, once in the actual payment device and once in a device that steals your card details. Where possible, do the transaction yourself. Where that isn’t possible, do not allow your card to leave your sight.

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Even if you are careful about shielding your PIN, you can undo all of that work by not keeping it sufficiently secret. Tell no-one else your PIN, pick one that isn’t based on a memorable date or other commonly-used number, and memorise it rather than writing it down. A surprising number of people leave a note with their PIN in their wallet for easy reference, putting themselves at risk of handing over vital information to thieves. Worse still, when thieves strike, banks may rule that you did not take sufficient action to protect your card details and refuse to refund you.

If you suspect that your card has had its details stolen, change your PIN immediately and contact your bank to check on your recent transactions. Your card may need to be cancelled.

Protecting Your Card Details Online

Make sure that you only access your bank account from your private computer using a secured internet connection. Use of public computers or public internet connections can allow thieves to steal your bank details and access your accounts. Keep your computer’s security up to date to prevent spyware from broadcasting your bank details. Use unique and secure passwords for all of your online accounts, and memorise them, don’t write them down.

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Criminals may attempt to steal your personal information and bank details through phishing scams. Be wary of any emails containing links, especially emails purporting to be from your bank. Phishing websites can look identical to the real thing, so instead of clicking on the link, enter your bank’s website address manually. Your bank will never ask you for sensitive information through email, so any email asking for such, no matter what threats it makes, almost certainly has criminal origins.

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