ID theft expert turns own experience into bestselling book

Being a victim of fraud didn’t impede author’s success.

“It can happen to you,” says Graham McWaters, Canada’s leading expert on identity theft and the co-author of four books.

And with more than a decade of experience in the financial services field, it did happen to him.

“My wife and I were victims of fraud. Somehow, somebody got into our bank account and took $499. When we went to use our debit [card] at Rogers, it appeared as if we’d already taken out our daily limit,” McWaters says.

Graham McWaters is an author, speaker, trainer, and Canada’s leading expert on identity theft.
Courtesy of Graham McWaters.
Author Graham McWaters is Canada's leading expert on identity theft.

Two months later, a similar incident occurred. McWaters and his wife have each had their bankcards compromised twice. He never went to the police, but these events sparked his interest to write The Canadian Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Other Fraud (2007) with Gary Ford.

“Everywhere I [went], I was seeing stuff related to identity theft. I met somebody who told me that it happened to her husband 10 years ago, and they still haven’t fixed it. Now they’ve given up,” he says.

McWaters warns people against carrying social insurance cards and birth certificates in their wallets or purses. These two pieces of identification should be kept in a safe place at home – if anybody gains access to these IDs, “you could be recreated,” McWaters explains.

“They can get a driver’s licence with your name, your date of birth, and their photograph. Then, they can walk into a bank and get a brand new credit card,” he elaborates.

Fred Ryall, who is program chair for the Peel Halton chapter of the Financial Advisors Association of Canada, has heard McWaters speak about ID theft prevention on more than one occasion.

“[McWaters] was teaching and demonstrating things to us that we had no idea about,” Ryall says. “He spent a lifetime of work trying to put all of his expertise together.”

After hearing McWaters speak, Ryall says he is now aware that “people can steal your identity if they get a hold of your SIN card or your birth certificate, and they can create absolute havoc.”

Gary Foster, the president and CEO of Enlightened Communications, has also worked with McWaters several times, and says that “he’s quite amazing in his field.”

“These days, everyone needs to be alert to identity theft and loss of personal information,” warns Foster, who has also worked with Roberta Bondar, David Suzuki, and Doug Henning in the communications field.

He advises individuals to safeguard their private information.

“The bottom line is that people need to quarantine personal data,” he says. “It’s important to have someone there like Graham to help you do that because there are so many ways in which people can be defrauded today.”

McWaters' bestselling book with Gary FordFoster says that McWaters is all about fraud and ID prevention.

“All it takes to be safe is a few steps in advance. Like they say, ‘a stitch in time saves nine,'” Foster explains. “There’s a lot of private data that flows through, and Graham has been very helpful in teaching people how to protect that information.”

He also says that more experts like McWaters are needed in today’s society.

“Whenever I pick up the daily paper, I always see something about a security breach. We need more speakers and consultants in this area because, although people are becoming more alert to fraud and identity theft, the criminals are also getting more sophisticated.”

Like Ryall, Foster admits that after hearing McWaters speak about identity theft prevention, he no longer carries his social insurance card with him, but leaves it in a safe place at home.

Ryall says he is appalled that individuals are so indifferent when it comes to protecting their own identities.

“It’s amazing how lackadaisical most people are in respect to identity. We should never carry our birth certificate or SIN card with us because if your wallet is stolen, there goes your identity,” he says. “Those two items should be treated like a passport, be left at home, and only be taken out when needed.”

Ryall also says that Canadian companies need to take fraud and identity theft very seriously.

“Businesses need to understand that there’s a huge criminal element out there,” he warns. “Companies and individuals alike need to start safeguarding themselves against identity theft because it’s taking place at an alarming rate.”

The amount of information that thieves can extract from garbage cans is shocking, Ryall says.

“You should be shredding old cheques or bank statements rather than just tossing them in the garbage,” he explains. “All kinds of information can be extrapolated from those forms.”

As a father of three, Ryall says he wants to ensure that his children’s identity is protected.

“Moms and dads should take a conscientious approach to identity theft prevention, and not just shrug it off.”

But McWaters says banks and investigators are faced with an even greater challenge: not enough people report being victims of fraud.

“When my wife and I had lost that money, we never told the police. We only told the bank,” he admits. “But if more people reported the crimes, the police would have more chances of catching the criminals.”

According to McWaters, only one in 10 people who are victims of identity theft and of debit or credit card fraud actually report it to police.

McWaters, who lives in Richmond Hill with his wife and two children, practises what he preaches. The cautious father ensures his son has a safe and enjoyable experience when playing games online.

“We’re always updating his antivirus, doing live updates with Norton, and we’re scanning daily. I’m engraving that protection on the Internet,” McWaters says.

With a bachelor degree in commerce from Montreal’s McGill University, this author, speaker, and trainer is also somewhat of a comedian.

“I was actually born with a moustache,” he jokes when asked about his distinguishing facial feature. “I’ve had it since 1977.”

McWaters, who is also the co-author of The Canadian Student Financial Survival Guide (2005), The Retirement Guide (2004), and The Canadian Retirement Guide (2004), says he plans to write a second version of his book on identity theft in the near future because it is becoming more prevalent.

“One, whenever something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And two, always protect your personal information. Those are two big things you need to remember!”