Another reason to "h-word" January

My eight-year-old has trained me out of using potentially hurtful words such as “hate” (the above-mentioned “h-word”), “stupid” (the “s-word” to Bronwyn and her cohort), etc.

So if the colder- and snowier-than-usual weather, combined with climbing home-heating bills, haven’t already made you grouchy, here’s another reason to, er, dislike this time of year: According to a Globe and Mail article posted online yesterday, January is prime time for identity theft. Why? It’s so easy for crooks to catch your paper trail. With the RRSP contribution deadline (March 1) and tax-return time approaching, our unguarded mailboxes are continually stuffed with our confidential financial info.

The RCMP says this is the information identity thefts can use (click here for full details):

full name
date of birth
Social Insurance Numbers
full address
mother’s maiden name
username and password for online services
driver’s license number
personal identification numbers (PIN)
credit card information (numbers, expiry dates and the last three digits printed on the signature panel)
bank account numbers
signature
passport number

The year 2009 saw more than 11,000 reported victims of identity theft in Canada alone, who lost a total of $10 million.

So how can you keep your money — and your good credit rating— safe?

For starters, every adult should check his or her credit rating yearly. It’s free, and takes just minutes online, at Canada’s two main credit reporting agencies, Equifax and TransUnion. (Ignore the appeals to pay for special monitoring services; they aren’t really necessary, as long as you check your report annually.)

Experts recommend you clear your mail box daily, and if you’re going to be away, ask a trusted neighbour, friend or family member to pick up your mail every day (or have Canada post hold your mail while you’re gone; click here for how).

Don’t dump financial papers; shred them, using a cross-cut shredder, for safety. Prices start at about $50; here’s what they look like:

Identity thieves can use your personal info to apply for loans, mortgages, credit cards…. Pretty scary stuff, and some of it’s tough to fix.

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