ROB CARRICK | The Globe and Mail
Identity thieves once stole a total $500,000 by pretending to be Jennifer Fiddian-Green.
Her story is worth hearing if you want to understand the risks that arise when your personal information is stolen. We’re told endlessly to keep our data private so identity thieves can’t get it. But a data breach at the credit monitoring company Equifax highlights the way people can be vulnerable through no fault of their own.
Ms. Fiddian-Green, a forensic accountant at Grant Thornton LLP, isn’t sure how her personal information was stolen back in 2006. But she does know the thieves were able to secure two mortgages in her name that netted them the $500,000.
In investigating her own case, she learned that the thieves tried to borrow money at 12 or more financial companies. “Ten times, these institutions said ‘no, this is not a good application, get rid of it,'” she said. “But two of them [a bank and a mortgage lender] let it go through.” She realized this only after one of the lenders came looking for repayment.
Equifax has been rightly slammed for its vagueness about how many Canadians were affected by a cyberattack against the Atlanta-based company and the extent to which their private information has been compromised. On Monday afternoon, the company’s website said that only a limited number of Canadians may have been affected, and “it seems” at this point that the information possibly breached includes names, addresses and social insurance numbers.
According to the RCMP, personal information can be used to open bank accounts, apply for loans and credit cards and make purchases, among other things. “If a fraudster is successful in using your data to obtain financing, you could quickly be overwhelmed by the number of accounts and the dollars that are out there,” Ms. Fiddian-Green said.
As a cybersecurity expert, she was able to convince the duped mortgage lenders that they were fraud victims. Now, she has some thoughts on helping others understand identity theft and how to fight it.
To start, people need to understand that the data kept by credit monitoring companies such as Equifax and competitor TransUnion is enough to enable thieves to borrow money or set up accounts in your name. These firms are clearinghouses for data on how people are keeping up with their borrowing – they take in information from financial companies and sell it back to these firms to help with decisions on whether to lend money, and at what rate. You should certainly check your credit file to monitor for fraudulent activity. But there’s also some onus on banks, credit card companies and other lenders to make sure they’re lending to actual customers and not thieves.
Expect to find out by letter, phone call or contact from a debt collection agency if you’re a victim of thieves who have used your identity to borrow money. Ms. Fiddian-Green’s suggested response: “You need to say no, I was not a party to this. I’ll help you figure out the fraud that was conducted on you and your institution using my data.”
Scott Terrio of insolvency trustees Cooper & Co. says people are legally responsible for debts in their name. “But if it’s true fraud, then you’re not legally obliged to pay it. The trick is to prove that it wasn’t you.”
One way to do that is to demonstrate the fraudulent expense or borrowing is not in keeping with your usual pattern of spending. Mr. Terrio notes that credit card companies use fraud detection software that looks for deviations from your usual spending. In the fraud cases he’s seen, banks and card issuers have typically been co-operative in identifying identity theft.
Equifax is pushing a $19.95-a-month service on its website that monitors your credit file and can help detect identity theft. But you can also order a free credit report from both Equifax and its competitor TransUnion. Just google Equifax Canada or TransUnion Canada and “free credit report.”
Some financial firms also provide credit reports to their clients. For example, Royal Bank of Canada clients who bank online can now access their credit score and a credit file showing all their existing accounts and inquiries made by lenders. Scan all of this information for unauthorized activity and contact the firm involved if you find anything.
Even after her experience several years back, Ms. Fiddian-Green says she wouldn’t take Equifax up on its credit-monitoring service. “I refuse to pay to have them tell me they’re taking care of my data.”
The devastating effects of the recent hurricanes in the United States and Caribbean serve as a reminder that Canada is at risk for extreme storms too, and experts are warning those living north of the border should be prepared.
While Canada doesn’t often experience hurricanes, insurance professionals and climate experts say more extreme weather events – particularly heavy rainfall – will start to become more frequent and severe.
“One of the big risks facing communities and homeowners is flooding as a result of intense rainfall events,” Steve Kee, a spokesperson for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, told BNN in an email. “It does not matter whether your home is located in a floodplain or not. If water comes down so fast that the ground cannot absorb it, and sewer and wastewater infrastructure is overwhelmed, flooding can occur.”
Flooding in urban areas has resulted in more than $20 billion in damage between 2003 and 2012, according to the Government of Canada. Of the 8.6 million households in the country, 1.7 million have some risk of flooding, the IBC says.
But Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, says everyone is at risk because the location of microburst storms – where anywhere between 150 and 250 millimetres of rain can fall – is unpredictable. Feltmate, who was appointed to the expert panel tasked with advising the government and homeowners on how to deal with flood damage, estimates only about 15 per cent of Canadian households have flood insurance.
“[Flooding] is the elephant in the room for Canada – that’s the area that’s costing Canada the most relative to extreme weather events,” he told BNN in a phone interview.
“When you encounter and meet people who say, ‘listen, I’ve lived in this area for 30 years and I’ve never seen flooding’ and therefore, quite reasonably, they say ‘I don’t expect to see it going forward,’ what they’re not realizing is the dynamics and weather system they experienced when they were a kid aren’t happening today,” he added.
There are two types of coverage currently available in Canada: sewer backup coverage and overland insurance. The latter, which protects homeowners against damage from water that seeps through windows, doors and cracks from nearby bodies of water, has only been on the market since 2015. Feltmate says major insurance companies “stepped up to the plate” and introduced the product after the major flooding in Calgary and Toronto in 2013 caused insurers to realize there was a growing need for a new type of protection.
For larger, officially-declared disasters like a hurricane, or the Fort McMurray wildfire last year, each province has a disaster recovery program and sets its own its own coverage for financial aid. But if homeowners opt out of the insurance available, they will have a harder time qualifying for government assistance, Feltmate explains.
The IBC says every property is assessed on its level of risk – higher risk properties will pay more. But the insurance coverage might not cover the entire cost of the damage. This can be problematic for the 47 per cent Canadians living paycheque to paycheque, as water damage needs to be resolved relatively quickly, Feltmate says.
“If people don’t have coverage, and don’t have money sitting around to fix it immediately, the house could be devalued,” he said.
Feltmate stresses a good way to deal with flood damage is taking preventative measures.
“The best solution to the problem is to not have the problem,” he said, noting homeowners can do a number of things around their homes like keeping valuables out of the basement or installing special flood-resistant windows.
Feltmate says Canadian cities also play a role in mitigation efforts, and need to build homes in anticipation of severe weather in the future.
“We’ve got to build in anticipation of the big storms that are coming,” he said. “Everybody is vulnerable.”
5 ways homeowners can protect their properties from flood damage:
- Put weather protection sealant around basement windows and the base of ground-level doors.
- Check sidewalks, patios, decks and driveways to make sure they haven’t settled over time and are causing water to drain toward your property. Clear snow away from the building’s foundation. If the ground is sloped one inch per foot near the building, moving snow just three to five feet from the building will reduce problems.
- Use a rain barrel to catch water runoff.
- Install flood shields or barriers for basement windows and doors.
- If a flood warning is in effect, shut off electricity to areas that are at risk of flooding.
(Find more tips through the Government of Canada website)
The Travel Advice and Advisories are the Government of Canada’s official source of destination-specific travel information. They give you important advice to help you to make informed decisions and to travel safely while you are abroad.
Will the storm affect Canada?
The storm will have no direct impact on Canada, according to Global News’ chief meteorologist, Anthony Farnell. But Farnell notes that Canadians travelling may be affected.
“If you are a Canadian travelling or know anyone travelling through the Caribbean, Cuba or Florida this storm will directly impact you in the next week,” he said. “Landfall is looking more likely in Florida this weekend but a continued shift west and south in the track means that a landfall in Cuba is also possible.”
No matter where you plan to travel, make sure you check the Travel Advice and Advisories page for your destination twice: once when you are planning your trip, and again shortly before you leave. Safety and security conditions may change between the date you book your travel and your departure date.
See Travel Advice and Advisories – FAQ for more information.
Choose your destination below to see regularly updated information on:
- local safety and security conditions and areas to avoid
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August 31, 2017
Long weekends are terrific – no one can dispute this – but they do mean increased traffic on the highways and a greater risk of getting in a collision. SGI is reminding motorists to do their part to make sure everyone gets to their destination safely.
“Whether you’re driving to see your family, heading to the lake, or coming into Regina for the big game, let’s make this Labour Day long weekend a safe one for everybody travelling Saskatchewan’s roads,” said Earl Cameron, Executive Vice-President of the Saskatchewan Auto Fund. “You can do that by driving sober, avoiding distractions, buckling up and obeying posted speed limits.”
Over the 2016 Labour Day long weekend, there were 265 collisions, resulting in four deaths and 55 injuries, according to preliminary data. Alcohol or drug impairment was a factor in two of those deaths and six injuries.
SGI offers the following tips for drivers hitting the road this Labour Day weekend:
- Drive sober – Your risk of a long weekend collision nearly doubles when alcohol is involved. Saskatchewan’s tough new laws mean penalties for impaired driving start at .04 blood alcohol content (BAC), with three-day vehicle impoundments and licence suspensions. There is zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol for new drivers and anyone 21 years of age and under. If your long weekend plans involve a few drinks, plan a safe ride. If your friend has been drinking, be a good Wingman and don’t let them get behind the wheel.
- Leave the phone alone – You’re controlling thousands of pounds of steel and glass travelling at high speeds, so that deserves your full attention. Distracted driving is the second-leading cause of fatal collisions in Saskatchewan. If you get caught driving with your phone in hand, it’s a $280 fine and four demerit points. Experienced drivers can only use their phone if it’s mounted on the dash or visor, using the one-touch or voice-activated function. Drivers in the Graduated Driver’s Licensing program are prohibited from using the phone entirely.
- Buckle up – Seatbelts have been the law in Saskatchewan for 40 years, yet in 27 per cent of fatalities last year, someone wasn’t restrained properly. Seatbelts are mandatory for everyone and child safety seats are required for all children under seven years old.
- Don’t speed – Hey, it’s the LONG weekend, so you’ve got plenty of time to get there. Obey posted speed limits, and watch out for construction zones and school zones where speeding tickets are even more expensive. Also, with harvest underway, slow down and be patient around any farm equipment that may be travelling along our highways and rural roads.
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