What is identity theft/fraud?
Identity theft occurs when a person steals someone else’s personal information such as their name, Social Insurance Number (SIN) or driver’s licence number, to make fraudulent financial transactions or to create a false account for the purpose of committing fraud. The public must be careful when sharing personal information online. Once someone discovers they are a victim of identity theft that may take years to rectify, which will hurt their credit rating.
How common is identity theft/fraud?
During the lockdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, identity theft and fraud surged. According to information from Statistics Canada, in 2016, there were 260 cases identified as identity theft. That number almost tripled to almost 725 by 2020. The related crime of identity fraud climbed even more, starting from 828 in 2016 to reach 4.508 in 2020. Overall, there were 23,996 types of cybercrime reported in 2016, compared to 63,523 in 2020.
According to information from the Canadians Antifraud Centre, there were 30,849 reports of identity theft in 2021. If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, contact the Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or throu5gh the Fraud Reporting System.
What is synthetic identity theft?
In synthetic identity theft, identities are created using a blend of real and fake information for fraudulent purposes. The personal identification of children or the deceased are often used for synthetic identity theft since that information is not closely monitored.
In 2022, an Ottawa man said he was a victim of synthetic Identity theft. He had received a reassessment notice from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), indicating that he had not paid taxes on $31,388 in earnings from a numbered company in Toronto, according to a media report. He is retired and had never heard of the Toronto company that issued a T4 slip in his name.
The report states that when the man alerted the CRA to the mistake, he was advised that the only way to avoid paying the $2,842 tax bill would be if he contacted the numbered company himself and directed it to issue a corrected T4. The story adds that he and police have been unable to track down the company.
Is identity theft/fraud a recognized crime?
Section 402.2 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to obtain or possess another person’s identity information with the intention of using it to commit an indictable offence such as fraud. It is also a crime to make available or sell another person’s identity information, knowing “or being reckless” as to whether the information will be used to commit an indictable offence.
Those convicted of fraud over $5,000 face a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. If the fraud was under $5,000, the maximum penalty is two years in jail.
How do I avoid becoming a victim of identity theft/fraud?
Here are some tips to avoid being a victim of identity theft/fraud.
- Don't divulge your personal information online, by phone or by mail unless you are confident that the company or individual is trustworthy and will keep your personal information secure.
- Keep important documents such as your birth certificate, SIN card and passport in a safe place.
- Choose a strong personal identification number (PIN) or password and do not use the same one for multiple accounts.
- Shield the keypad when entering your PIN.
- Shred or destroy personal information, including credit statements, before throwing them out.
- Review financial statements as they are sent to you and report any errors to your financial institution right away.
- If your credit or debit cards are lost or stolen, contact the issuer immediately.
Call me if you are facing an identity theft/fraud charge
I have represented clients charged with digital (online) and non-digital identity theft/fraud. As with any case, I will look at what evidence the Crown has against my client. If it is a digital identity theft, there will often be a trail of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that police are relying on to determine the computer or local network from which the fraudulent messages originated. However, if there are a number of people that have access to the computer that has been identified, that will mean that my client cannot be solely identified as a suspect in the crime.
I had a client accused of fraudulently selling a vehicle online. The police laid the charges on the basis of IP address information and the cellphone numbers that were used in the transaction.
As a defence lawyer, I had to ensure the police could link my client to the crime, as an IP address is not enough. The IP address just ties it to a specific home, but other people could have had access to that internet account.
In other instances, the parties in an identity theft/fraud case might meet in person, such as in the case of someone setting up a false bank account. When that case comes to trial a year or more later, it may be difficult for the bank employee to identify the suspect. The signatures that were given also need to be examined to prove they can be tied to the suspect if police are using them as evidence.
If you are facing an identity theft/fraud charge in the Ottawa-area, contact me for a free consultation.