British Columbia

ID theft victims now have Canadian support centre

Canada's first support centre for victims of identity theft has opened in Vancouver, helping victims deal with everything from from credit and debit card fraud to wholesale takeovers of people's lives.

Vancouver office offering help to victims across the country

Canada's first support centre to provide resources for victims of identity theft has opened in Vancouver.

The Canadian Identity Theft Support Centre quietly opened an office downtown at the end of March.

A public launch is planned for May, but organizers say the centre has already received about a dozen calls to its toll-free number.

"The issue of identity theft is one of the fastest growing issues in Canada and victims across the country have nowhere to go once they become a victim. They are put out into the internet and into phone trees of different companies trying to figure out what to do," said Kevin Scott, president of the Canadian Identity Theft Prevention Association. "We assist individuals from start to end on how to regain control of their identity."

A charitable organization primarily funded by the federal Justice Department, the support centre is modelled on a similar U.S. organization based in San Diego, Calif.

The centre won't publicize the exact location of its offices in order to protect the four full-time staff members from identity thieves.

In addition to a toll free number, the centre provides online resources to help victims deal with the fallout of identity theft ranging from credit and debit card fraud to wholesale takeovers of lives.

"We look at ourselves almost as a translator," Scott said. "When an individual is a victim of identity theft, it's almost like their world is out of control. They don't know which way to turn. Their finances are turned upside down. They could have criminal records. They could have a variety of different internet reconfigurations.

"So when an individual is facing all those ... they are very emotional and they are very concerned that they cannot regain control of their identity."

Like Scott, the centre's director, Lindsay Lee, trained with the organization's U.S. counterpart. Despite a lack of publicity to date, she said centre staff have already taken several calls from Canadian victims of identity theft.

Victims seek vengeance

"People want — their instinct a lot of the time — is they want the person to be caught," said Lee. "Unfortunately, that probably isn't something that's probably going to happen right now in Canada. That's not really out there for people. It's too difficult to track.

"So when people call, this is often what they have on their mind is 'How can I get this guy?' And that's something you have to tell people — that's not going to happen. You have to focus on yourself. You have to focus on getting your own life back."

Scott said the centre also hopes to fill a statistical void. The last national survey done on identity theft in Canada happened in February 2008. The survey found that about 1.7 million Canadians had experienced identity theft ranging from credit and debit card fraud to impersonation used to rent apartments or avoid criminal records.

Susan Sproule, one of the authors of the survey, said the study cost about $80,000 to produce. That compares to estimates of up to $100 million in losses identity theft causes banks.

Sproule said she hopes to work with Scott's centre on a new study and to obtain hard data for her research from the people who call the support centre.

"I'd love to do an update," said Sproule. "I'm not sure what we would find."

Scott believes the centre's work will also highlight a need for greater vigilance by public bodies as well as private organizations in protecting the data of Canadians. He described the balance of maintaining privacy as a "three-legged stool" with each leg representing the duty of government, business and individuals.

"If we're going to reduce identity theft in Canada, we need to ensure that each one of those legs is holding its own weight," he said.

"At this point, I would say that each one of those is fairly weak because individuals aren't taking the proper steps to protect their personal information. Corporations need to take greater steps to ensure that the information they gather is properly protected. And for government, there's breach notification."