Fraud | Identity theft from minors is on the rise

Identity theft cases among children and young people are skyrocketing. In 2021, the personal information of 1,103 minors was stolen in Canada, including 1,031 in Quebec. That’s six times more than the previous year, according to figures from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre The press.

Posted at 5:00 am

Emilie Bilodeau

Emilie Bilodeau
The press

“If my son applies for a loan, will his credit score be affected? says Hélène Ross, the mother of a child whose identity has been stolen.

In 2020, her 17-year-old son discovered that a criminal had filed a Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and employment insurance claim on his behalf. His T4 also showed that he made $20,000 during the year, an amount that was about double what he actually made as a weekend grocery clerk.

“My son has never been unemployed. There is no right, he studies! says Matane’s mother.

Mme Ross filed a complaint with the police and investigators revealed to him that his son’s identity had been stolen much earlier when he was only 13 years old.

I don’t know how it happened. Is it because of the data leak at Desjardins? Elsewhere on the web? I have no idea.

Helen Ross

The case of the Ross family is far from unique. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center (CAFC), 7 people under the age of 18 had their identities stolen in 2018. That number rose to 13 in 2019 and 175 in 2020.

In 2021, the statistics exploded: 1,103 children and young people were victims of identity theft, 93% of them in Quebec. This high number could be explained by the Desjardins data theft, believed to be the largest information leak in Quebec’s history. The theft occurred between 2016 and 2018.

CAFC confirms that it has seen an increase in fraudulent claims for CERB and EI benefits, which has led to increased identity theft statistics for all ages. Remember that the CERB was established in 2020 to help those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, minors are just as vulnerable to identity theft as adults,” said Jeff Horncastle, CAFC communications officer.

This can happen when their personal information, such as their date of birth or social security number, is leaked through a phishing email, an information leak, or the loss of their wallet.

Jeff Horncastle, CAFC Communications Officer

Using the identity of a minor, scammers can open bank accounts or apply for benefits, says Horncastle. However, under Canadian law, you must be 18 years old (19 in some provinces) to apply for a credit card.

“But scammers can keep information and apply for a loan once victims turn 18,” warns Jeff Horncastle.

debt at 18

Former Sûreté du Québec investigator Paul Laurier fears for the adult lives of these young victims. “Thieves are not crazy. The data leak at Desjardins alone affected 9.7 million members, including several school owners. Scammers, they didn’t burn all the identities they have at once,” he says.


PHOTO MARTIN TREMBLAY, THE PRESS

Paul Laurier, former Sûreté du Québec investigator specializing in identity theft cases

According to this computer crime specialist, scammers often use the identities of victims under the age of 18 to open bank accounts. These accounts are used to deposit fake checks or transfer money to cover up more serious crimes.

“At 18e On the 1st anniversary, these victims risk ending up in debt and bad credit,” says the retired police officer and president of Vigiteck, a firm specializing in cyber investigations.

“It follows you for a lifetime”

Maithé* lives with this obsession. Her son, who has just turned 18e Anniversary, is one of the customers affected by the data breach at Desjardins. He was 15 years old when his personal information was stolen from his school cash register.


PHOTO DOMINICK GRAVEL, THE PRESS

Maithé’s son (fictitious first name) is one of Desjardins’ customers affected by the data breach.

“A social security number accompanies you for life. That bothers me. His own number, who was it sold to? He will circulate in the wrong hands all his life? This is very worrying,” said Ahuntsic’s mother, who preferred to hide her identity so as not to harm her son.

I worry about his adult life.

Maithe

“His little account with a few hundred dollars, the thieves won’t do anything with it. But maybe his personal details were put aside until he was 18. I’m more worried now than when he was a minor,” Maithé explains.

Cybersecurity expert Éric Parent confirms that it is more difficult to use personal data to commit crimes when the victims are minors. “Most of the time, teenagers don’t have large amounts of money in their bank accounts. They shouldn’t be able to order credit cards in their names, but it’s happened in the past, crazy mistakes. Deceased received credit,” he nuances.

For this expert, implementing proof of digital identity is essential to prevent a variety of identity thefts. “Currently, banks require us to identify ourselves with our mother’s maiden name. But that information is on a lot of people’s Facebook profiles if you look a little,” says the President and CEO of Eva Technologies, who regrets that scammers have it too easy.

Chantal Corbeil, spokeswoman for the Mouvement Desjardins, assures that “personal data lose their value over time for scammers”. She adds that her organization set up a “security office” in 2019 to protect its members’ personal information and fight money laundering and financial crime, among other things.

The Canada Revenue Agency asserts that as soon as it suspects identity theft has been committed, it “can block [le compte d’un particulier] to prevent transactions, perform detailed analysis and communicate with potential victims”.

* Fictional first names

How do you know if your identity has been stolen?

The credit agency TransUnion admits that the personal data of minors is particularly at risk “because fraud can last for years if it is not detected,” according to the American company’s website. “This can go on until a [victime] turns 18 or until they first attempt to apply for a loan. If your child starts receiving mail that’s normally addressed to an adult (like prepaid credit card promotions or financial offers), they may have been a victim of identity theft, the Credit Enforcement Agency says. If you are no longer being paid Canadian child support, this is also an indicator to look out for. In the event of identity theft, the Canada Competitions Bureau recommends reporting the fraud to your financial institution, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center and the police.

Learn more

  • 42%
    Percentage of Canadians who have experienced at least one type of cybersecurity incident since the pandemic began, including phishing attacks, malware, scams, and hacked accounts.

    29%
    Less than a third of Canadians who experienced a cybersecurity incident during the pandemic reported the incident to authorities.

    Source: Online panel survey on cybersecurity during the pandemic, Statistics Canada, 2020

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