Just like the pandemic, identity theft is infecting people across the country, including two essential workers in Greater Trail.
Registered Nurses Sam Paxton and Juli Dobie were the victims of identity fraud last month, and wouldn’t have found out had they not checked their junk mail.
“I had two bank accounts opened up in my name,” said Paxton. “I was really shocked about that. First I had a Scotiabank card sent to me in the mail and I was like, ‘How the heck did that happen?’”
Both women had fraudulent bank accounts opened. Dobie was sent interac cards from Toronto Dominion, Vancity and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), while Paxton received a Scotiabank and a Vancity bank card in the mail.
“I phoned the 1-800 number and they told me that anyone can open an account online, as long as they had your name, birth date, social insurance number (SIN), and where you work,” said Paxton. “I completely came unglued and said, ‘You have to have a better security system than this.’”
The Times went online and found that providing your SIN was either optional or not required by banks when applying online for an account.
That, however, was only the tip of the iceberg.
After Paxton thought she had closed the Vancity account, she received in the mail a PIN number for the same account a week later.
“I thought why the hell do I have a PIN number?” she said. “So, this is the kicker. I phoned Vancity back and I told them, ‘Okay I just want to make sure the account is closed.’
“The guy I talked to said, ‘Yeah your Vancity account is closed but do you know there is $6,000 in this account?”
The money came from the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) and were three Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments.
“I work for Interior Health Authority,” she said. “I’m a nurse and I don’t need CERB payments.”
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) the crime is Identity Fraud, and the CAFC representative says they received 1,333 reports of ID fraud linked to CERB from Mar. 6 to July 31.
“Like other ID Frauds, there is certainly a level of sophistication and organization. Fraudsters have enough personal information to create new accounts and would have enough of a victim’s personal information to do so.”
Fraudsters try to set up numerous bank accounts and EI claims with the aim of falsely claiming the CERB, and then a money laundering scheme where they access those accounts and withdraw the money.
Dobie also found out that someone had made an EI claim in her name.
She has worked at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital throughout the pandemic, yet, her fraudulent EI claimant said she lived in Alberta, not Trail.
“I even phoned my employer and asked if there may have been a breach in there, because somehow they got my social insurance number and that’s not something I just give out,” said Dobie.
While neither Dobie nor Paxton know how their identity was stolen, government officials confirmed last month that a total of 11,200 accounts for the Government of Canada services were compromised in an Aug. 7 cyber attack, including CRA accounts and “GCKey” accounts.
Paxton and Dobie also had to call collection agencies, Equifax and TransUnion, to report the fraud.
They put locks on their accounts so they can only withdraw funds in person and not online, changed passwords, got new bank cards, and filed a report with the RCMP.
Trail RCMP Sargent Mike Wicentowich confirmed that the cases are being investigated but also that it is difficult to track down the fraudsters.
“The RCMP investigates all reports of fraud; however, these scams are sophisticated, global, and set up to be difficult to trace to any particular person,” Wicentowich told the Times.
“Learning about common scams through the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and taking measures to protect your personal information is the best preventative method to avoid being victimized.”
Those who are the unfortunate targets of fraudsters suffer a great deal of stress, and ongoing worry about it happening again.
“I had to take two days off work,” said Dobie. “I had to use my own time, so I used a vacation day and a personal day, and I had already been stressed out due to COVID. I said to my boss, ‘This is a nightmare.’”
Paxton’s experience was similar. She was able to contact the CRA and put a hold on payments and close the CERB account, and she was told she would not be held responsible for further “transactions”.
The big question for many is how criminals access the information and what would have happened if they didn’t catch it?
For Paxton, having the bank cards sent to her house, was the only way she discovered the fraud.
“Thank God that these bank cards came to me and not to someone else or else I would have no clue whatsoever until next year at tax season.”
But for people that don’t open their junk mail or are unaware of the fraud until it’s too late, the consequences can plague them their entire lives. Many victims of fraud have trouble getting jobs, applying for loans, credit cards, mortgages or even opening a bank account.
“I don’t know how these people do it,” said Dobie. “It can ruin your credit rating, because if you’re just starting out, and this happened, you end up defending yourself your whole life.”
Many end up having to prove to banks, businesses, employers and institutions that they are themselves.
“Unfortunately any system or benefit developed by the Canadian government has the potential to be defrauded by unscrupulous criminals,” said Wicentowich. ” Additionally, identity theft and CRA-related scams are widespread and are constantly evolving.”
Wicentowich recommends residents be proactive and take measures to protect themselves, including:
• Sign up for the CRA “My Account,” which includes a function called “Account Alerts” as a security measure. Account Alerts will notify the taxpayer by email if their address or direct deposit information has been changed.
• Regularly review bank accounts to identify any suspicious activity.
• Sign up to be notified via cellphone about any financial transactions occurring within their bank account.
• Report any attempted or completed fraud to the RCMP, CRA, and Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
• Do not provide any personal information over the phone or email and use secure methods to provide information to verified sources and people if required.
If you are unsure about who you are communicating with, it is best to directly contact or visit the financial institution or government agency if possible.