April 15, 2014
These days, news stories about keeping your personal information safe from identity thieves are everywhere. Many focus on high-tech scams involving software security holes, computer viruses and malware designed to silently skim your data.
While it’s important to stay informed of these dangers, it’s just as important to be aware of lower tech ways you may be exposing your private information.
“It’s common practice for instance to store your vehicle registration and proof of insurance documents in the glove box of your car,” says Dave Terletski, Bridgewater Bank’s director, Risk Management. “While they may be out of immediate sight in this location, the glove box is likely the first place a criminal will look when breaking in.”
With these documents in hand, thieves will now have:
- your name
- your address
- details on the car you drive including its make, model, VIN and license plate number
- the name of your insurance company and your policy number
“While they may not be able to steal your vehicle at that moment, this information, together with a garage door opener, is an open invitation for a house break-in. It’s crucial to keep your garage door opener hidden at all times”, Terletski adds.
Some people keep a credit card, credit card receipts, a cheque book, or even cash in their glove box, leaving themselves even more exposed to criminals.
Identity thieves can use the information on stolen documents to commit various forms of fraud in your name. Members of the Ontario Association of Police Chiefs agree. They recently issued a media release stating that criminals look for such documents so they can assume identities, secure credit card accounts, and even take out a mortgage against victims’ property without their knowledge. Victims may not realize they have been harmed until it is too late, costing them time and money to rectify the damage.
As a safeguard, consider keeping these items in an alternate place.
“One option would be to carry them in your wallet or purse so that they are always with you rather than unattended in your car” suggests Terletski. “If you share your vehicle with others, perhaps keep these documents in the vehicle but in a much less obvious location, like in the trunk or under the seat. While it’s important these documents are available in case of emergency, there’s no reason that they need to be constantly kept in a front-and-centre location.”
During the summer months it can be tempting to leave your car windows open while you run into a store. Keep in mind that it takes only seconds for a thief to reach in and help themselves to your information and belongings. Always lock up and close all windows when you leave your vehicle.
If you’re a victim of a vehicle break in and documents have been taken, you should immediately:
- file a report with the police in the community where the break-in took place
- notify your insurance company, your vehicle registrar and any other relevant agencies that your vehicle has been broken into and documents have been taken
- contact the fraud departments of each of the two major Canadian credit reporting agencies, Equifax and Transunion. Request that a Fraud Alert be placed in your files and order copies of your credit reports
- start a log of dates, people that you spoke with and exactly what they said
“Identity thieves are constantly coming up with unexpected high-tech and low-tech ways to steal personal information from unsuspecting victims” says Terletski. “Thankfully, though, there are almost always simple things you can do to keep thieves at bay.”
For more information on how to protect yourself and those around you from scams, check out Protecting Your Information.