An Ontario teacher is working to clear her name and her credit score, after someone appears to have used her identity to open credit cards, take out a loan and purchase a luxury SUV.

Tara Douglas arrived home from her teaching job in Bradford, about 65 kilometres north of Toronto, on April 28 to find a bill waiting for her for the Highway 407 toll expressway.

The bill was for trips she never took in a car she never bought.

"I saw the licence plate did not belong to me and the trips that were on this 407 bill I had never taken," Douglas told CBC Radio's Metro Morning this week.

She called the number on the bill and was told she had to deal with the Ministry of Transportation. The next day, Douglas went to a Service Ontario location to figure out what was going on.

Tara Douglas

After receiving a strange bill, Tara Douglas began digging and discovered that her identity had been stolen. (Submitted by Tara Douglas)

A staffer there pulled up her information and told Douglas that a 2012 black Range Rover was registered to her driver's licence, in addition to her own car.

"That's kind of when I really started to freak out because this obviously isn't my car," she said.

The MTO staffer removed the Range Rover from her licence and directed her to police in Barrie. Police listened to the details of her case and launched an investigation. On Tuesday, the force issued a news release with a picture of a suspect standing in front of the SUV.

The news release says the Range Rover has been registered to Douglas since March 31 after being purchased at a dealership in Woodbridge, another community north of Toronto.

"The dealership was contacted and confirmed the female who purchased the vehicle did so with a valid driver's licence and proper identification," the release says.

The vehicle's licence plate is CBNM 808.

'I don't know what else I can do' 

Police had advised Douglas to contact her bank, as well as credit reporting agencies Equifax and TransUnion, to see what else may have been done in her name. While her personal bank information was fine, the credit bureaus told her that someone had taken out numerous credit cards in her name, ringing up between $1,000 and $5,000 in charges. Her address was also listed as being in North York, which isn't true. Two cellphone numbers that weren't Douglas's were also registered to her.

Other car purchases were also listed on her credit report, and police told her that a $60,000 loan had also been taken out in her name.

Tara Douglas

After learning about the extent of the identity theft, Douglas has done everything she can to clean up her credit report and protect herself. (Submitted by Tara Douglas )

While she doesn't yet know how someone managed to get her personal information, police did tell her that the person allegedly buying cars and obtaining credit in her name had obtained her social insurance number. 

'I don't know what else I can do at this point, but I want this to be resolved and go away'
- Tara Douglas

She's now working hard to clean up her credit report, sending the credit bureaus various documents to prove her side of the story. She has also contacted Canada Post to ensure her mail wasn't being diverted to the suspect's address.

"I think I've covered all my bases," she said. She's also unsubscribed from email lists she doesn't want to be on, has told her banks to only communicate with her by phone and boosted the privacy settings on her social media accounts.

"I don't know what else I can do at this point, but I want this to be resolved and go away and me to get back to what my life was and who I am," she said.

'A little prevention goes a long way'

Kelley Keehn, a personal finance educator and consumer advocate for the Financial Planning Standards Council, said it doesn't take much to steal someone's identity.

Name, date of birth and a social insurance number are "enough for someone to do some serious damage," Keehn told Metro Morning.

Many people don't know they have been the victim of identity theft until they have an angry creditor calling them about loans they never applied for, or are threatened with foreclosure on a mortgage they never got.

hi-credit-cards-istockphoto

Reading credit card statements carefully and keeping your eye on the mail to make sure no bills have gone missing are two ways to catch credit card theft early. (iStock)

"The best takeaway is you need to check your credit report," Keehn said.

To prevent being the victim of credit card theft, or at least to catch it early if it happens, Keehn advises to:

  • Read credit card statements carefully.
  • Keep an eye on mail to ensure bills aren't going missing.
  • Check credit scores regularly with Equifax and TransUnion.
  • Sign up for a service with the credit bureaus that requires any lender to call you if an application for any kind of loan or credit is made in your name.

"A little bit of prevention really goes a long way," she says.

Meanwhile, anyone with information about this case is asked to call Const. J. Breedon of Barrie police at 705-725-7025, ext. 2521 or email at jbreedon@barriepolice.ca. Anonymous tips can also be sent to Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS.

With files from Amanda Grant