A statistical trend that receives little appreciation is that crime rates in Canada have been declining steadily for more than 20 years. There are exceptions, however.

Identity theft has become more prevalent. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, there were just over 17,000 victims in 2012, with losses of about $16-million.

I’m going to write about this type of crime over the next two columns. The first will be on how to recognize if your identity has been stolen. In the next column we’ll consider ways to reduce your potential for being a victim.

Identity theft occurs when someone gains enough information about you to impersonate you and obtain credit or make purchases in your name. The impersonal nature of computer data makes this far easier to do than it was in the past.

Past cases have ranged from obtaining credit cards in someone else’s name to selling a house while the owner is out of town. Luckily, there are signs that indicate you may have had your identity stolen.

Consider your mail. Have you stopped receiving bank or credit card statements? This could mean that either your mail is being stolen to prevent you from noticing additional charges or identity thieves have used your account to change the mailing address so you no longer see your statements. Strange transactions may reflect unauthorized charges or fees for other cards and services you did not order, and may have resulted from the opening of new accounts in your name.

Also, extra mail may be a problem. This could include customer discount notices for products or credit cards you do not own. These serve as a warning that someone may have purchased something or applied for a credit card in your name.

Another warning sign is a change in your interest rate. If your rate increases substantially, this could that one or more unsecured credit card accounts have been opened in your name. Since your rate is related to the risk of your credit card limits, large increases may indicate that you have more cards in your name than you actually own.

If you apply for a loan from the bank or go to renew your mortgage and the loan is turned down or the interest rate offered is higher than you expected, it could indicate that you are carrying too much debt, debt you may not have actually incurred.

It is a serious sign if you cannot access your bank account funds. Your account may have been locked by your bank due to excessive unauthorized activity on your account or non-payment of bills you may not even be aware of.

Another thing to watch for is calls from collection agencies. While you may feel these are in error or crank calls, it may indicate that someone else has stolen your identity and their accounts are overdue.

If any of these warning flags arise don’t panic yet. There are steps you can take to reduce the consequences and we’ll cover these in the next column.

Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.