Identity Fraud: Can You Prevent It?

A young woman going through records of her life finds that she was married to a man for four years without her knowledge, and she had unknowingly divorced him! Another innocent woman receives her credit report, which is several pages long and included fifteen overdue [collections] she did not know about! A newlywed couple cannot buy a house because of records showing bad credit for both of them; all records contained false information (Gandolfi, 1997, p.5). What happened to all these people? How could they have prevented it? What should they do now? Identity theft is the fastest growing form of fraud in North America, but a blend of new technologies and common sense can prevent it from happening.

Identity theft is real; it is not something you see in movies. Identity thieves can take your identity so swiftly you would not know until it is too late. These people may be lurking around ATM machines or even watching them from a distance through binoculars. Thieves are able to redirect a person's mail so that they receive all credit, SIN or SSN cards issued to the victim. The variety is overwhelming! Gandolfi provides a through list of the mediums in which a thief will work:

"setting up telemarketing schemes to elicit account numbers from unsuspecting consumers; accessing personal information accidentally sent to the wrong fax number, e-mail address or voice mailbox; scavenging through the garbage in search of credit card or loan applications, employer's files, and identification/authentication data such as login IDs and passwords. Similarly, thieves can search erased disks for any retrievable data; sending false messages on the Internet (spoofing) in an effort to collect private information" (1997, p. 4).

Inform yourself about identity fraud. Knowing about it can be your best protection against and help through it. Statistics on fraud can be frightening at first, for example, "a typical victim's financial losses alone due to identity theft have been calculated to be as high as $36,000" (Gandolfi, 1997, p. 4). In the United States banks lost as much as ninety million dollars due to identity theft! Given the outrageous statistics on this particular brand of fraud, many victims are surprised by the lack of support the receive from those in authority. Police often arrest victims and the real criminals are never caught (Gandolfi, 1997, p. 4). These facts alone are enough to convince anyone of the need to protect his personal information.

Taking steps to protect your identity may be easier than you think. There are several simple, common sense ways to protect yourself and save your money. Always keep your important personal information in a safe place: This includes credit cards, bank cards, birth certificates, tax records, bills and passports (Gandolfi, 1997, p. 6). Obtain up to date credit reports frequently and report all errors immediately. Keep as few cards as possible and tear up anything unimportant with your private information on it. Do not reveal your pin or password to anyone (Gandolfi, 1997, p. 7). These are simple and cost effective ways to protect personal data, but there are new technologies available to help. These are called privacy enhancing technologies, or pet's (Gandolfi, 1997, p. 7). These identity protectors will encrypt personal data so that only someone with the right key can read it. A bank, for example, may have the proper key to decode encrypted banking information when banking online. Pet's provide a high degree of anonymity and are almost sure ways to protect personal information. Nothing can be entirely foolproof. So, what happens when a thief captures someone's identity?

The world is not under our control, so there are also prescribed steps to take if you find yourself a victim of identity fraud. The Federal Trade Commission (2002) explains that your first step should be to "contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus" (p. 11). Let them know that you have been victimized. Second, you should close the accounts that you think or know have been tampered with or opened by thieves (p. 12). Last, you need to file a police report with your local police or those of the area where the theft took place (p. 11). The Federal Trade Commission provides a pamphlet with complete details at the identity theft clearinghouse online. This pamphlet includes templates for sending a report to credit bureaus and filing police reports.

"The world's expanding electronic infrastructure has enabled fraud to flourish exponentially" (Gandolfi, 1997, p. 7). To counter this growing threat, take steps to learn about identity fraud in your area. Keep your sensitive information in a safe place and be aware of the assistance available if you are victimized. If you do not protect your own personal information, who will?


(2002). Public advisory: Special report for consumers on identity theft. US Department of Justice and Canada Solicitor General. Washington and Ottawa. Retrieved October 16, 2003, from

Federal Trade Commission. (2002) ID theft: When bad things happen to your good name (pamphlet). Retrieved October 20, 2003 from,

Gandolfi, Peony. (1997). Identity theft: Who's using your name? Ottawa: Information and privacy commissioner. Retrieved October 20, 2003, from