What crooks can do with your social insurance number
Monday, Apr. 14, 2014
The CRA said Monday that SINs were lost over a six-hour period during a data breach. It did not say whether other information was lost with the SINs. Screen grab/Service Canada
The social insurance number is a crucial key to your identity. Now with news that hackers stole the SINs of 900 Canadians from Canada Revenue Agency computers, security experts are warning people to be vigilant of identity theft.
“Your SIN is a de facto identifier of who you are as far as the financial institutions are concerned,” says Det. Ian Nichol from the Toronto Police’s financial crimes unit. “Assuming [identity thieves] have information other than just your SIN, for example, your name and address, it is possible that they can impersonate you and they can apply for accounts, credit products.”
The SIN is a nine-digit number that you need to work in Canada or to receive government benefits. Government officials use SIN to track someone’s income and taxes owed. The CRA said Monday that SINs were lost over a six-hour period during a data breach. It did not say whether other information was lost with the SINs.
Dan Williams, senior call-taker supervisor at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, says the SIN is not valuable to a crook on its own.
“It’s very rare that we’ll hear from somebody that his SIN was used with someone else’s name or a fake name. If all that was lost [from the CRA] was just a collection of SINs, from what we see, it would be appear that they wouldn’t be able to get much,” Mr. Williams says. “It’s name, date of birth, SIN — when [crooks] have all of that, then it’s easy for them to apply for cellphones, credit cards, the whole nine yards.”
In 2013, there were 19,473 identity fraud victims who reported $11-million in losses, according to the Anti-Fraud Centre.
Identity thieves are looking for your name, your date of birth, SIN, address, mother’s maiden name, username and password for online services, driver’s license number, bank account numbers, etc. They collect it in a number of ways, whether through dumpster diving, hacking or stealing it from other sources (government agencies, financial institutions, insurance companies, mortgage brokers,
“What we deal with is account takeovers where [a thief is] hopping on someone’s financial profile and taking it over,” Det. Nichol says. “If I have temporarily taken over your bank accounts, I can deposit forged or altered cheques into your bank account, then [steal it] either through withdrawals or transfers…in which case, you’re left holding the bag.”
Instead of taking over existing accounts, crooks can also create new ones. They can also contact your financial institution with enough information to impersonate you and say that they want a secondary card for a family member or that they’ve lost their card.
They’ll go into a post office and use forged identification to redirect your mail to a post office box or a vacation address. Your mail, with more personal information, will then be delivered into the hands of fraudsters.
“If someone breaks into your house and steals your wallet, you’ll find out about it fairly quickly. But if someone breaks into your financial institution, you don’t know about it until they’ve gone out and abused it,” Det. Nichol says.
He suggests that individuals request credit reports from credit agencies such as Equifax Canada or TransUnion Canada once a year. Look for any credit cards that you did not apply for and for any credit checks that you don’t recognize.
Monitor your financial statements for any suspicious activity or purchases. Also take note if not all of your mail is being delivered.
Victims of identity theft face a nightmare in resolving the problem. Some could spend hundreds of hours clearing their names, says the Identity Theft Resource Center, a not-for-profit United States organization that researches and fights identity theft. Some reported facing higher insurance or credit card fees and higher interest rates. Some also had to fight collection agencies.
If you are the victim of identity theft or fraud, immediately report it to the local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. If you think someone is using your credit card: call your credit card issuer right away. Contact your credit bureau and have fraud alerts placed on your credit reports.
Consider getting identity theft insurance tacked onto your home insurance. Certain policies protect you against the theft of your cards, fraudulent removal of funds, forgery of cheques and legal costs to clear your name.