Thousands of Canadians have unfortunately fallen victim to online scammers, with more than $10 million lost to fraud this year alone.  

As the number of victims increases in the country — there were 3,313 victims Canada-wide as of January 31, 2021 — so do the warnings from authorities and credit agencies.

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Julie Kuzmic, Equifax Canada’s director of consumer advocacy, spoke to Narcity and explained that identity theft is committed when someone steals your personal information, like your name, social insurance number (SIN), date of birth and more.

Kuzmic also shared what these fraudsters can do to unsuspecting people if they somehow get ahold of that information.

What can scammers do if they get my SIN number?

Kuzmic said that a scammer can use your personal information for a number of things, including hijacking your credit.

According to her, fraudsters can open up new credit accounts, take out loans in your name and even access your bank or retirement accounts. Additionally, an identity thief can use your personal information to get ahold of your tax refunds.

A scammer can also charge things to your credit cards and leaves tons of bills unpaid, which can impact your credit score.

Kuzmic said scammers can also write bad cheques on accounts in your name, create counterfeit cheques and debit cards and use them to drain your bank accounts.

Believe it or not, they can even file for bankruptcy using your name to get out of paying their debts.

How do I report this?

Kuzmic said that alerts can be placed on credit files if someone feels like their information was compromised. 

Many of this information is also available online and outlined by Equifax on their website.

In fact, Equifax has two types of free alert options: identity alerts and fraud warnings.

With an identity alert, people can add their information to their credit report, which will make sure all lenders call them before they can give out any credit. However, this is only available in Ontario and Manitoba because creditors in other provinces and territories are only encouraged to call, not required. 

Fraud warnings are only available to confirmed victims of identity theft and last up to six years. Lenders are also encouraged, but not legally required, to call you before handing out credit.

How do I avoid becoming a victim of fraud altogether?

Equifax has a ton of tips on how you can avoid being the victim of fraud and safeguard your sensitive and important information. 

According to the agency, individuals should not overshare online, since scammers can easily gather anything that's public on social media.

They also advise that people check their credit report at least once a year to check for any unusual activity.

Equifax also says to use strong passwords online, to not trust public Wi-Fi, to review all your transactions, to protect your mail, and to shred all important documents that are no longer needed like old credit applications, insurance forms, bank cheques and statements.