Cybercrime increased across the board during the pandemic, and identity theft was no exception. Crooks like chaos, and COVID-19 provided that in spades. Since the onset of the pandemic, cybercriminals have stolen more than $880 million from consumers – and this doesn’t even begin to include the vast amounts of government benefit fraud that was conducted using stolen personal data. And it doesn’t end there.
“There was also a surge in identity theft linked to social media accounts with reported incidents jumping 1,044% in 2021,” Lisa Barron, WealthCo’s IT Lead, shares. “These scams generally involve using stolen credentials from social media and then posting a fake charity on social media where the scammers used these obtained credentials to instill an air of trust and legitimacy. As well, medical records were a target during the pandemic as government requirements for vaccinations spurred the need for fake vaccination status records. Medical identity theft in Canada is still a relatively unknown issue, as only 11% of the population is aware that fraudsters can alter medical records.”
Why have we seen such an increase in identity fraud?
In a world where more and more of our personal information is stored online and an increasing number of financial transactions are conducted via the internet it's no wonder that identity theft is on the rise. And while cybercrime has been steadily on the rise for years, the pandemic did nothing to slow that momentum.
“As a result of COVID-19, businesses were left with no choice but to turn digital to meet consumer needs,” Barron points out. “Some were more prepared than others. Businesses without a risk-based approach for security and lacking a modern identity environment, identity governance, and vulnerability management tools are at serious risk of suffering considerable financial losses.”
Furthermore, it has become easier for criminals to obtain personal information, thanks to the proliferation of data breaches – data breaches increased by 68% from 2020 to 2021 and shows no signs of slowing down. Personal data can circulate on the Dark Web forever and can be available to cybercriminals for as little as $1.00 per record. Nowadays so many people use their smartphones and other devices to conduct financial transactions, making it easier for criminals to intercept sensitive data. And finally, hackers are getting better and savvier at their craft and are constantly finding new ways to exploit weaknesses in computer systems.
Who is at risk from identity fraud?
In short, we all are. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has reported the following statistics specific to identity theft in Canada thus far in 2022:
- There have been over 68,000 reports of fraud since January 1st;
- Fraud has affected 43,476 victims so far this year; and
- Over $360 million has been lost to fraud.
While the stereotypical image of a cybercriminal is that of a random, shadowy, hooded presence hovered over a computer (see image above), the reality is that over half of identity fraud victims know their attackers. It could be a family member, a neighbour, a co-worker – with a big fake smile and nary a hood in sight.
“Baby Boomers are more exposed than those from Generation Z around government-based program scams like benefit fraud where someone poses as someone else to steal government benefits,” Barron shares. “While younger generations, like millennials, have grown up with the internet and shop more frequently online making them more susceptible to identity theft through credit card fraud.”
Even the deceased aren’t immune from identity fraud. There have been over 800,000 incidents of identity theft reported in which the cybercriminal have used the identities of deceased individuals to open credit cards.
How can individuals best protect themselves against identity fraud?
The silver lining in this rather dark identity fraud cloud is that there are many, many ways for individuals to protect themselves.
“The most important thing is to understand and recognize our vulnerabilities, and then take as many corrective actions as possible to minimize them,” Barron cautions. “Follow the three Ds: deter, detect, and defend.”
Safeguard your information. Never, ever share your personal information with anyone unless you are absolutely sure they are legitimate. This includes your full name, date of birth, social insurance number, and bank account information. If you have doubts about the legitimacy of an organization, check with the Better Business Bureau.
Additional deterring strategies include:
- Use strong passwords (think a combination of lower- and upper-case letters, special characters, and numbers) and change them often
- Always install the latest operating system, as it will be on top of fixing any system vulnerabilities that allow hackers access, and activate anti-virus software
- Be mindful of what applications you are downloading – both to your computer as well as to your smartphone and tablets
- Be social media savvy and keep your profiles on private
- Use encryption to protect sensitive files and data
Be vigilant about routinely monitoring your financial and billing accounts. You should also regularly check your credit report for any unusual activity, or even better, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. This way, you'll be alerted as soon as someone tries to use your information without your permission.
Despite all your best efforts, if you do happen to notice suspicious activity, take charge immediately by following these steps:
Step 1 - Contact your local police force and file a report.
Step 2 - Contact your bank/financial institution and credit card company.
Step 3 - Contact the two national credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
Equifax Canada Toll free: 1 800 465-7166
TransUnion Canada Toll free: 1 877 525-3823
Step 4 - Always report identity theft and fraud. Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Stay safe, stay aware, stay vigilant.
Lisa Barron joined the WealthCo team in 2021 and has been instrumental in ensuring that we are adhering to the best possible cybersecurity and information management practices. Given WealthCo’s commitment to the adoption of new tools and technologies, Lisa’s exceptional problem-solving skills have been a tremendous asset. When Lisa’s not keeping us cybersafe, you’ll find her hiking and spending time with her two fuzzy family members (AKA her dogs) and her one unfuzzy family member (AKA her husband). She also spends her time giving back by helping our Calgary community with lost pets to bring them back home safely to their family.
The Integrated Advisory community consists of a network of progressive CPA firms, along with best-in-class professional advisors, service, and product specialists, who work together to deliver an elevated and holistic client experience. One that optimizes both their personal and professional lives with an integrated financial strategy designed to help clients reach their goals.