Visit from the Police Alerts Toronto Woman to Identity Theft

Person wearing black hoodie, we cannot see their face, on a black laptop. Behind there is a car and credit cards illustrating a particular case of identity theft in Canada.

In collaboration with Equifax

In fall 2023, Jaclyn T. and her husband awoke to flashlights shining through their apartment windows. No strangers to the sounds of the city’s nightlife, they assumed it was someone who’d been drinking. “My husband slides the window open and yells dude, it’s 3:00 am, what do you want?” explains Jaclyn. “The guy yells back: it’s the Toronto police, we’re looking for Jaclyn.”

The police were at the door seeking information about a white BMW registered in Jaclyn’s name. It was involved in an ongoing crime investigation. The only problem was: Jaclyn had never owned a white BMW.

As she soon discovered, she’d been the victim of an identity theft that would devour her mind space and bandwidth in the months ahead as she unravelled the mess.

Creating a Digital Trail

It started in September when a pair of credit cards – one from Costco, the other from Canadian Tire – arrived in the mail. “I thought it was weird, but I’m like, okay, I’ll just call and cancel these cards,” says Jaclyn. But as she spoke to customer assistance at Canadian Tire, it became clear that there was more to it. “This person’s like oh, interesting, this card was opened in-store… someone went to the counter.”

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He starts listing off the information he has on file, Jaclyn’s full name, her address, her driver’s license number, and her social insurance number. “They made up an employer for me but all the major stuff was accurate,” says Jaclyn. The store had done a quick credit check and given the fraudster a $500 balance which the fraudster then spent in-store on the spot.

Jaclyn assumed it would be as simple as calling Equifax or TransUnion and reporting the card. She moved onto the Costco card to do the same. When she flipped the card over, she noticed a picture next to her name. “This woman, who I guess stole my identity, went into the store and posed for the photo.”

The person at Costco told her a similar story: they had all the same information and had given a $1,000 balance to the fraudster which was spent on the spot. Jaclyn quickly moved to report the cards and close them. It felt settled for a few weeks until the police showed up. From there she started getting more emails and letters.

“They used my personal information to get $40,000 in financing from TD to get this car, “ she says. More bills arrived for cellphone accounts with Telus and Bell. She even got bills for the 407 toll route with photos of the fraudulently purchased car.

“It was so much work, hours of my time, to call each of the companies behind the accounts and report what happened, then they had to corroborate it with the police,” she says. “It went on for months.”

It opened the door to so many questions like how the fraudsters had gotten so much of her data and how to prevent it from happening again.

A Growing Concern

According to the latest data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC)’s 2021 Annual Report, reports of identity fraud hit 17,377 in 2020, nearly double the previous three years. However, not all cases are as complex or interesting as Jaclyn’s, explains Vanessa Iafolla, principal at Halifax-based Anti-Fraud Intelligence Consulting, which offers financial crime consulting and support for victims and lawyers.

“A lot of identity theft is quite simple… they take over your account by computer, pretend to be you via your online banking, and bang, you’re broke,” says Iafolla.

Technology is only making identity theft easier. “We walk around with our entire life in our pockets,” says Iafolla. “Almost anything you need for someone’s identity is on their phone – and (accessing it) has all of these huge implications for your financial security, your retirement, your credit.”

With so many of our daily transactions happening online and many of us having a digital presence, fraudsters have unprecedented access to personal information. And experiencing identity theft can be devastating.

“Victimization makes it difficult to trust new people and it can also really harm relationships within a family because people don’t understand how this could have happened,” says Iafolla.

So how do you protect yourself?

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Pruning your Digital Presence

Iafolla says so much of what makes scams and fraud effective is social engineering. There’s a sense of urgency that drives engagement. In the case of identity theft, that often comes down to being incentivized to give away too much of your information.

Online shopping is awash with offers of discounts in exchange for your email address. Online banking offers a level of unavoidable convenience. And, inevitably, you’re going to be making purchases online.

But Iafolla says it’s worthwhile to do a sort of digital identity pruning at regular intervals – deactivate unused accounts, get in a regular regiment of updating the passwords, and opt for two-factor identification when possible. “We could all stand to live our lives a little less online.”

When Iafolla is working with clients that have experienced identity theft, she tends to break the course of action into two parts: retrospective and perspective.

“In some ways, they’re linked (but) going through and figuring out where your information is, what the leak could be, getting a solid handle on what your accounts that you actually know that you have are,” says Iafolla. “There’s this forensic accounting of your life that you wind up doing, which is horrible.”

Some homeowner and renter policies have identity theft protection which can be helpful. She also recommends running a credit report and looking for emotional support like finding a victim support group or therapist. “Someone has come into your life uninvited and has exploited you,” she says. “And people need support with that kind of victimization.”

For Jaclyn, she’s just grateful it wasn’t more damaging. “It was very thrilling for me, a, stay at home mom on mat leave at the time trying to figure out what was going on with this car,“ says Jaclyn. “In the end, it was mostly just annoying and curious… but I thought there might have been a little more resolution.”

This is the first installment in the ‘Scamland Canada’ series, brought to you by Equifax. Through firsthand accounts, it aims to shed light on the cunning tactics of fraudsters, while offering strategies to help readers protect themselves against fraud and identitytheft. One of those strategies is to subscribe to Equifax Complete™ Premier, a premium credit monitoring service that allows Canadians to receive alerts directly from Equifax, to monitor their Equifax score daily, and to benefit from the help of an Equifax ID Restoration Specialist in the event that they fall victim to identity theft.

Andrew Seale has spent nearly a decade and a half as a journalist and storyteller committing thoughts and ideas to print. After graduating from journalism school, Andrew took a post at a mining journal as an editor, a front-row seat to the commodity super-cycle and the global financial collapse. After a few years in the industry, he shifted to freelance, accidentally falling into business writing and covering entrepreneurs in Toronto as the city's startup scene was supernova-ing. He's penned stories for The Globe and Mail, Profit Magazine, The Toronto Star, enRoute Magazine, Yahoo Canada, and Vancouver Sun among others.