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Studies show that approximately 72% of Canadians have a minimum of one credit card. While there is a lot of value to these financial tools, ranging from repairing credit to accessing funds in an emergency, there are also distinct risks. Credit card fraud is an ongoing issue, facing a large number of households across the nation. 

The presentation of this pervasive issue is diverse. Credit card fraud can result in stolen identity and severe financial issues for the consumer. For financial institutions, it serves as an extremely costly expense. According to a 2018 report issued by the Canadian Bankers Association, the price tag was roughly $862 million. With the continued prevalence of this crime, it is important for consumers to stay informed so that they can take responsible action. 

What is Credit Card Fraud? 

As with most criminal matters, there are different approaches to committing the offence. It’s critical to understand each type so that it can be promptly addressed. These include:

  • Card Theft/Loss: When a card is stolen or lost, this can lead to fraud. When funds are taken from the card, this becomes credit card fraud. This is why it is particularly important to continually monitor your credit account and promptly cancel your card if you suspect theft.
  • CNP Fraud: With the prevalence of e-commerce, the likelihood of this issue increases. This occurs when the card details are entered over the phone or online. Funds are taken without the actual account holder being in control of the purchase.  
  • Counterfeiting: Should the details of a credit card be taken and then used to create a fraudulent card, this is classed as counterfeiting. While one of the less prevalent types of fraud, skimming devices are able to take card details in passing. 
  • Failure to Arrive: In the event that a card is ordered by a consumer and is intercepted prior to arrival, then used, this counts as an arrival-failure type of fraud. It is important to track the status of incoming cards; and, should it be significantly delayed, investigate immediately. 
  • Application Fraud: Many credit card applications are digital, which can lead to application fraud. Application fraud is when someone uses the personal and financial details of another individual to take out a credit card. It can result in severe damage to the victim’s credit profile. 

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Penalties For Credit Card Fraud in Canada

As a criminal offence, the penalties for credit card fraud are set forth by the Criminal Code of Canada. Matters are assessed on an individual basis, though there are some standards in place which are used as guidelines. These include:

  • Fines: If an individual possesses a forged or stolen credit card (or is actively using a cancelled card) there is the potential for a $5,000 fine. While fines are a possible legal recourse, it is not the only option. Therefore, the fine will not necessarily apply. 
  • Imprisonment: A jail sentence of six months may be placed instead of the above-noted fine. In certain situations, both the fine and the minimum jail sentence is ordered. For a more severe offence, and if it is classed as an indictable felony, a maximum of ten years’ jail time can result. 

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What Can You do if You’re a Victim of Credit Card Fraud?

Call Your Credit Card Agency

Among the first steps to take if you are the victim of fraud is to contact the agency which holds your credit account directly. From there you should:

  • Tell them about fraud: Inform them of the false transaction(s). Note the amount, date, and time for ease of reference. Since, in certain situations, there is a time limit on reporting unauthorized transactions, you must report the issue as soon as you become aware. 
  • How it helps: Provided you address the issue promptly, there is recourse. The credit card company will open an investigation into the incident and immediately cancel your card. Generally speaking, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, you will not be held financially responsible for unauthorized charges. 

Report Fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center

Another diligent step to take is to swiftly report the fraudulent incident directly to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. This association has assisted in the prevention of fraud and has structured approaches to handling reports. 

  • Institutional Partnerships: This reputed agency works in conjunction with the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police, as well as the Competition Bureau of Canada.  
  • Purpose of Filing: The Anti-Fraud Center collects and disseminates information relating to both ongoing and historic scams. By submitting your report, you can actively assist the agency in gaining the necessary details to stop future fraud. They can also provide you with further resources to assist you in recovery. 
  • How to File: When filing a report, you can use the online tool with either a GC Key or a relevant sign-in partner, usually a financial institution. Alternatively, you can call the toll free phone number during business hours. 

Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report

An important step to protecting your credit profile and financial wellbeing is to immediately put a fraud alert on your credit report. This way, you are not held responsible, financially or otherwise, for unauthorized charges. Do this by: 

  • Contacting your credit bureau: Ensure that you reach out directly to both credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion. The two hold information separately, so you must be sure to talk to both.   
  • Place a fraud alert: Once you get in touch with the credit bureaus and verify your identity, they will place a fraud alert on your credit account
  • How it helps: In addition to flagging the account for suspicious behaviour, the agencies may offer you supplemental advice, such as to flag the matter with your bank. Be sure to follow the recommendations to the letter. It is prudent to alter your passwords for any online.

Should You File a Report With The Police? 

Many wonder whether it is prudent to file a report directly with the police in the event of credit card fraud. Since this is a crime, yes, the victim of the credit card fraud should promptly inform the police. In fact, the Canada Anti-Fraud Centre recommends that you file a police report. There are simple steps to completing this civic duty. 

  • Contact your local authorities: Identify the local police department in your area, whether that is a municipal force or the RCMP. Contact their administrative line directly. 
  • How it helps: The police will open a file to address the complaint. It keeps an official record of the issue. If it occurs again, be sure to keep the police up-to-date. This facilitates law enforcement in stopping future crime.  

Do Police Investigate Credit Card Fraud

Many wonder whether the police will actively pursue credit card fraud. Typically, the answer is no. Generally, the police do not involve themselves directly in these kinds of matters. You will likely be directed to speak with your credit card agency directly, or to the credit bureaus. Nonetheless, since fraud is so far-reaching, it is important to report the fraud to assist with larger cases.

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How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Fraud

While fraud is frightening, there are simple steps you can take to preserve your credit and financial wellbeing. These include:

  • Checking your credit report at least once a year: Look into your credit report directly from TransUnion and Equifax at least once every year. Ensure that all the charges are accurate. If you suspect foul play, take action. 
  • Keeping your pin and passwords safe: It is important to never share your passwords or your pin number. This offers a basic level of security and prevents many issues if your card is lost or stolen. 
  • Use your information responsibly: In general, do not issue personal information over the phone or the internet. This includes, but isn’t limited to, your date of birth, social insurance number, credit card details, and address. If you are in doubt as to whether to provide the information, wait, check their credentials, and either call back or return to the website when you are certain of its ethical nature. It’s always best to be cautious. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you have a better understanding of the nature of credit card fraud, you can be prepared for the possibility. By learning the roles different agencies play in fraud prevention and prosecution, you can act more efficiently. While the police do not directly act in most credit fraud scenarios, they play an important role in managing its prevalence in society. In completing your civic duty and filing a report, you not only help yourself, but you also aid your fellow citizens and the financial institutions which govern credit. In a shared society, everyone has a role. This is also true for reducing the risk of credit card fraud in Canada. 

Corrina Murdoch avatar on Loans Canada
Corrina Murdoch

Corrina Murdoch has been a dedicated freelance writer and editor for several years. With an academic background in the sciences and a penchant for mathematics, she seeks to provide readers with accurate, reliable information on important topics. Working as a print journalist for several years, Corrina expanded her reach into the digital sphere to help more people gain insight into the realm of finances. When she's not writing, you can find Corrina swimming and spending time with family.

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