by: Emilie Bilodeau
Child and teen identity theft cases are skyrocketing. In 2021, 1,103 minors had their personal information stolen in Canada, including 1,031 in Quebec. This is six times more than the previous year, according to figures provided by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center to The Press.
“When my son goes to apply for a loan, will his credit be damaged? “says Hélène Ross, the mother of a child who had his identity stolen.
In 2020, her 17-year-old son discovered that a criminal filed an application for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and employment insurance on his behalf. His T4 also showed that he earned $20,000 during the year, an amount about twice as much as he actually earned as a weekend grocery clerk.
“My son has never had unemployment. There is no right, he is studying! “, says the mother of Matane.
Mme Ross filed a complaint with the police and investigators revealed to him that his son had had his identity stolen much earlier, when he was only 13 years old.
I don’t know how it happened. Is it through the data leak at Desjardins? Elsewhere on the internet? I’ve no idea.
The case of the Ross family is far from unique. In 2018, 7 people under the age of 18 had their identities stolen, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center (CAFC). This number increased to 13 in 2019 and 175 in 2020.
In 2021, the statistics exploded: 1,103 children and teenagers were victims of identity theft, 93% of them in Quebec. This high number could be explained by the theft of data at Desjardins, which is considered to be the largest information leak in the history of Quebec. The theft occurred over a period from 2016 to 2018.
CAFC confirms it has seen an increase in fraudulent claims for CERB and EI benefits, which has increased identity theft statistics for all age groups. Remember that the CERB was put in place in 2020 to help those who had lost their jobs because of COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, minors are at risk of identity theft just like adults,” said Jeff Horncastle, communications officer at the CAFC.
It can happen when their personal information like their date of birth or their social insurance number is shared through a phishing email, an information leak or the loss of their wallet.
Jeff Horncastle, CAFC Communications Officer
Using a minor’s identity, fraudsters can open bank accounts or apply for benefits, Horncastle says. Under Canadian law, however, you must be 18 (19 in some provinces) to apply for a credit card.
“But fraudsters can keep information and apply for credit when victims turn 18,” warns Jeff Horncastle.
A debt at 18
The former investigator at the Sûreté du Québec Paul Laurier fears for the adult life of these young victims. “Thieves are not crazy. Just with the data leak at Desjardins, 9.7 million members were affected, including several school caisse holders. Fraudsters, they didn’t burn all the identities they have at once,” he says.
According to this specialist in computer crimes, fraudsters often use the identity of victims under the age of 18 to open bank accounts. These accounts are used to deposit fake checks or transfer money to hide more serious crimes.
“At their 18e anniversary, these victims risk ending up with debt and bad credit, ”says the retired police officer and president of Vigiteck, a firm specializing in cyberinvestigation.
“It follows you for life”
Maithé* lives with this fear. Her son, who has just celebrated his 18e anniversary, is one of the clients affected by the data leak at Desjardins. He was 15 when his personal information at his school’s cash register was stolen.
“A social insurance number follows you for life. That’s what bothers me. His own number, who was it sold to? He’s going to circulate all his life in the wrong hands? It’s very worrying,” said Ahuntsic’s mother, who preferred to conceal her identity to avoid harming her son.
I worry about his adult life.
“His little account with a couple hundred dollars, the thieves won’t do anything with that. But maybe his personal data was put aside until he was 18. I am more worried now than when he was a minor,” explains Maithé.
Éric Parent, cybersecurity expert, confirms that personal data is more difficult to use to commit crimes when the victims are minors. “In the majority of cases, teenagers do not have large sums in their bank account. You’re not supposed to be able to order credit cards in their name, but it’s happened, crazy mistakes, in the past. Deceased people have obtained credit, ”he nuances.
For this expert, the implementation of a proof of digital identity is essential to prevent a good number of identity thefts. “Currently, banks ask us to identify ourselves with our mother’s maiden name. But this information, it is on the Facebook profile of many people if you look the slightest bit, ”says the president and CEO of Eva Technologies, who deplores that fraudsters have it too easy.
Chantal Corbeil, spokesperson for the Mouvement Desjardins, assures that “over time, personal data loses value for fraudsters”. She adds that her organization set up a “Security Office” in 2019 to protect the personal data of its members and fight against money laundering and financial crimes, among others.
The Canada Revenue Agency assures that as soon as it suspects that an identity theft has been committed, it can “lock [le compte d’un particulier] in order to prevent transactions, carry out detailed analyzes and communicate with potential victims”.
* Fictitious first name
How do you know if your identity has been stolen?
The credit agency TransUnion admits that the personal data of minors is particularly vulnerable “because a fraud can last for years if it is not detected”, reads on the website of the American company. “This can go on until a [victime] turns 18 or until they first try to apply for credit. If your child starts receiving mail normally addressed to an adult (like prepaid credit card promotions or financial offers), they’ve potentially been a victim of identity theft, says the credit monitoring agency . If the Canada child benefit is no longer being paid to you, this is also an indicator to watch out for. In the event of identity theft, Canada’s Competition Bureau recommends reporting the fraud to your financial institution, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center and the police.