By Jen Gerson
Approximately 250 students who collected provincial scholarships from Ryerson are at risk for identity theft after the Student Financial Assistance office misplaced their names, contact information and Social Insurance Numbers.
When Kar Wai Ng, a second-year Image Arts student, went to pick up his Queen Elizabeth II Aiming for the Top Scholarship, a staff member at the assistance office flipped through a list of names and made him sign next to his. Ng said that the names and confidential information, including the SINs, of hundreds of scholarship winners were on that list.
On Sept. 9, Ng got a phone call from Financial Aid. The list had gone missing the day before and the office was calling everyone on it to see if they had accidentally taken the treasure trove of vital information.
“They did the right thing by contacting everybody, but it feels like they down-played it,” Ng said. “The possibility of anybody doing anything with the information is scary.”
The SIN is a government document used by employers, credit agencies and banks. With the number, a scam artist could open a bank account, apply for a loan, rent an apartment and declare bankrupty using the name of the victim.
“Situations like this happen and have occured,” said Florence Nguyen, chief of media at the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. “The SIN is very, very personal information about you.”
While the financial office isn’t saying the list was stolen, Ryerson security is investigating. Security would not comment but Ian Marlatt, a university spokesperson, feels that the information was handled correctly and the Financial Aid office acted responsibly.
“I think that the big thing is that it would have been very easy just to not say anything. And then the odds would be very good that nobody would have even known it was missing,” he said.
Marlatt said the misplaced sheets did not have any critical information nor were there very many students on the list. “It was not a big fat document-I would imagine a couple pieces of paper at the most-confirming that students were attending Ryerson.
They were just initialling that off,” he said.
Student Services sent an e-mail to the scholarship winners a week later informing them that they would be contacted if there were any updates on the whereabouts of the list. Students who were worried about their SIN were directed to the government’s Human Resources website.
The website, Hrsdc.gc.ca, says that lost or stolen SINs should be reported to the police. It also suggests to people who fear that their information has been stolen to contact credit agencies and to check the accuracy of their credit file in case their information is used to accrue debt.
Victims should watch for anomalies that might pop up in their mail if a thief is trying to divert it. If victims of identity theft get a Notice of Reassessment from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency concerning undeclared earnings, they should report it to the Social Development of Canada offices.
According to the office of the Privacy Commissioner, signs of identity theft also include: Missing bank and credit card statements, denial of credit regardless of standing, calls from collection agencies for debts not incurred and mistakes on credit reports.
People who want to apply for a new SIN will have to fill out an application and provide a copy of the police report proving that the number has been lost or stolen along with a primary and supporting identity document to the SDC offices.
With files from Matt Kwong