Privacy commissioners in Canada say more is needed to fight identity theft than just Criminal Code change

Privacy officials have welcomed a proposed legislation that would give law enforcement a better arsenal of tools to go after fraudsters and identity thieves, but cautioned the statute alone will not eradicate the increasing problem of identity theft.

Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Frank Work stressed there’s no reason to become complacent because of these proposed amendments.

“It’s not as though because these charges exist problems are going to go away,” he said. “Police will still have their work to do in terms of proving intent, and the crown will have their work cut out for them proving criminal intent.”

Still, Work said the proposed legislation is “way better than what we had.”

Bill C-27, tabled recently by the Federal government, seeks to amend the Criminal Code by giving authorities the power to arrest, charge and convict people who intend to sell personal information as part of an identity theft scheme.

“A lot of us privacy commissioners had been looking for this (legislation) for some time,” said Work. “It’s not perfect…but I think it’s a good start.”

Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, also issued a statement welcoming the proposed amendment.

“For the first time, there will be explicit penalties for collecting, possessing and trafficking personal information,” said Stoddart. “As well, identity thieves will face the possibility of reimbursing each and every one of their victims for the costs they faced as a result of the fraud.”

However, while Stoddart welcomes the measure, she feels “the government must move further in addressing what has become an increasingly global problem.”

The planned amendments have also raised concerns around the concept of recklessness, according to Work.

“It could cause problems in terms of proving whether you were just collecting information in the course of business,” said Work. “But overall, the important thing is it gives law enforcement a couple of new charges that they can use which they didn’t have before.”

Work noted that in the past, even when police officers come across individuals with multiple sets of identification on them, they were unable to do anything because no crime was being committed.

“(The police) would suspect that it was going to be used (for fraud), but their hands were tied,” he said. “So these changes are going to be helpful, but we still have to catch the criminals, and in a networked world where a lot of this trafficking is done online, it’s hard.”

Work also reminded the public of their individual responsibilities to protect their identity. As the holidays are fast approaching, consumers are increasingly going online to make their purchases.

Work urges them to exercise caution and offers some tips for safe online shopping. “Only deal with online services that you trust, and look for a trustee seal on their Web site.”

Reading the privacy policy of the online retailer is very important, Work said, but it’s something that people rarely do.

“It’s like on the airplane when the flight attendant tells you to take out the card containing the safety procedures to follow – no one does it.”

When making online purchases, customers should keep receipts and carefully examine credit card statements, said Work. “I think most people don’t look at their statements, which means the bad guys get away with a lot more fraud before they get stopped.”

He added phishing scams, such as when fraudsters pose as credit card companies or banks, tend to be more prevalent during the Christmas season.

“No bank or credit card company will ever, under any circumstances, e-mail a person and ask them to confirm their bank account, credit card number, or their balance. But people fall for it,” Work said.

New offences under Bill C-27 include:

-obtaining or possessing identity information with intent to use it to commit certain crimes
-trafficking of identity information
-unlawful possession and trafficking of government-issued identity documents

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