Social Insurance Numbers are a hot commodity for identity thieves and scammers. The nine-digit number is your key to government benefits and services, as well as your primary identifier for financial institutions. It can also be very useful to others in a way that’s very damaging to you.
A stolen SIN isn’t devastating on its own, but combined with other personal information, a fraudster can use it to open bank accounts, apply for credit cards, rent cars, equipment and accommodations in your name and leave you stuck with the bills.
Also, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner warns a stolen SIN can make you searchable across databases and expose you to “digital surveillance,” monitoring your communications, your online activity and other aspects of your private life.
So how can you protect yourself?
You can’t keep your SIN a total secret, since it’s often required for government or banking services. But you can take care to limit how far your SIN goes.
Don’t carry your card with you. It may be hard to keep your PINs, passwords, and all those other numbers straight in your head, but losing your SIN card makes identity theft far easier.
Know when to give out your number, and when not to.
When it’s needed:
- buying a house or car;
- income tax identification;
- at any financial institution where you earn income or interest;
- student loan applications;
- employment Insurance benefits;
- for Canada and Quebec Pension Plans (CPP/QPP);
- workplace compensation benefits;
- child support payments;
- Canada Student Loans;
- Veterans Affairs benefit programs;
- Farm Income Protection.
When it’s not:
- applying for a job;
- on a credit card application;
- signing a cellphone contract;
- negotiating a lease or applying to rent a property;
- renting a car;
- writing a will;
- applying to a college or university.
If you’re unsure whether your SIN is needed in a certain situation, ask if it’s legally required, why it’s needed and who will see and use it.
If your SIN has been hijacked, or if you suspect it has, move quickly to protect yourself.
- get a credit report (available free from either of Canada’s major credit bureaus Equifax and TransUnion) and look for unusual activity;
- if necessary, request the credit bureaus put a fraud alert in your file;
- contact any banks, credit card companies or other financial institutions in writing and by phone;
- file a report with your local police or police in the area where the theft took place;
- contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Read more about SIN fraud and identity theft:
Canada’s Privacy Commissioner: http://www.priv.gc.ca/resource/fs-fi/02_05_d_02_e.ASP
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre: http://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/english/stopit_thetips.html