From the now infamous Canada Revenue Agency con to the repetitive offers for duct cleaning services, phone scams come in various forms and most of them seem to target your wallet directly, often asking for money via gift cards or bitcoin.
But a different version of the scam currently doing the rounds seems to be even more insidious, with the fraudsters aiming for a large cache of information rather than just cash – your Social Insurance Number (SIN).
One newcomer to Canada says she fell victim to a convincing con artist over the phone who had her so flustered, she had given up her SIN before even realizing she was being scammed.
“At the start of the call, there was a generic robotic voice supposedly from the Service Ontario Justice Department that told me my SIN has been flagged for two fraudulent charges and ignoring this could lead to legal ramifications and serious jail time,” says Ranj, a Canadian permanent resident who recently moved to Toronto in November, 2019.
Thereafter she was asked for a “case number” which she was never given. She was then asked to provide her SIN number to open her “case file.” Upon refusal, she was told to Google the number the caller was using to verify he was legitimate.
The number — 807-223-2348 — is connected to a web page for the Dryden Courthouse in Ontario under the Ministry of the Attorney General.
“He said that I would need to come in and appear at the Dryden Courthouse to fight my case against these claims associated with my SIN,” Ranj tells CityNews. “That’s when he asked me for my SIN again, which is when I gave it to him … you think you can trust this person (calling from the courthouse) and you can give them your SIN.”
Jeffrey Thomson, Senior RCMP Intelligence Analyst at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says the perpetrators of such scams often create the sense of urgency Ranj felt and it is part of their modus operandi.
“They’re trying to create a situation that puts Canadians in a position of alarm and fear and you get so excited that you just start following orders, especially if the caller is very authoritative,” says Thomson.
While Ranj is new to the country, Thomson says these scams do not necessarily target new Canadians.
“What happens with a scam is, when fraudsters are successful, they target everybody. The fraud will mutate and they’ll begin to target everybody. Anybody with a Canadian phone number is subject to get one of these calls,” he says.
By the end of the call, Ranj says she knew it was fake — the apparent charges against her involved money laundering, renting a car in Nunavut and drug related offences which she knew to be false.
“That’s when I said that this is bull*** because I’ve never been remotely associated with drugs,” she says, adding that it all sounded ludicrous, but by then it was too late.
“You feel stupid. I’m from a very big city in India – I’m from Mumbai – and you’re like ‘I’m never going to fall for that,'” she says. “But’s it’s all a matter of timing and what your mental state was at the time,” she explains, adding that they caught her at a busy time in the morning and while she never answers unknown numbers, she’s currently job hunting and was hoping to hear from potential employers.
As the caller’s threats escalated to freezing her bank accounts and other dire consequences, Ranj decided to hang up. Thereafter she called police who confirmed it was a scam call.
Const. Jennifer Sidhu tells CityNews that Toronto police is aware of phishing scams involving Social Insurance Numbers, but there are no active investigations at this time.
Police told Ranj that in order to file a complaint, she would have to show that her SIN had been used fraudulently. She was also advised to report the incident to Service Canada and hopefully be issued a new SIN.
Social Insurance Numbers are not fully replaceable
When she called Service Canada, Ranj was told a new SIN cannot be issued unless she can, again, somehow prove that hers was used fraudulently.
Getting a new SIN is fairly complicated and Service Canada simply does not issue them for those whose personal information may be compromised by scams or data breaches.
The reasons they list for this policy are:
- A new SIN will not protect you from identity theft or fraud because it is not a fresh start and your old SIN remains active. If someone uses your old SIN and the business where it is used does not check the person’s identity, you may have to prove you were not involved in the fraud or even pay the fraudsters debt.
- If you are issued a new SIN, the government can only share it with the federal departments and agencies that use it. That means you are responsible for providing your new SIN to all other institutions including your bank, creditors, pension providers, employers and any other organization you gave your SIN to. Not doing so might mean you miss payments or benefits owed to you plus it can leave room for subsequent fraud and identity theft.
- Since a new SIN does not erase your old one, you then need to monitor both accounts and the credit reports for both SINs which is highly inconvenient and once again, increases the risk of fraud.
What fraudsters can do with your SIN
“The SIN is the last stand when it comes to your identity,” explains Mick Be, CEO of IAmI Authentications, Inc. “The government has issued you a SIN card – it’s everything they rely on in order to identify you among a population of Canadians.”
On the government level those nine digits are tied back to your name, date of birth, current and previous addresses and a large amount of other identity information.
From a financial perspective your tax information as well as your entire credit profile including your history and credit score and connected to your SIN.
“It’s your credit profile the fraudsters are after for financial gain,” says Thomson, adding that once they gain access to the information connected to your SIN, it can be used for anything from renting a car to taking out a bank loan in your name.
“If I have access to your name, your address and your SIN, that’s enough information for me to perhaps speak to somebody at the CRA. Somebody can gain then, your tax credits,” adds Be.
In short, anything that’s connected with your credit is available and therefore exploitable by fraudsters if they get their hands on your SIN and the information its tied to.
How to monitor SIN activity and fraud
Thomson says it is fairly simple to monitor your SIN activity and detect if something seems inconsistent.
“What we recommend for any Canadian is that you check your credit profile at least once a year,” he advises, adding that its a free service. All you have to do is call Canada’s two national credit bureaus — TransUnion or Equifax — or visit their website to get a copy of your credit profile.
Your profile contains all your accounts and all the activity tied to those accounts. Thomson says if you notice anything that stands out or something that you don’t recognize, call the credit bureaus and report fraud.
Service Canada adds another indication that your SIN has been used fraudulently is if you receive a Notice of Reassessment from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) about “undeclared earnings.” This likely means someone else has used your SIN for employment or to receive other taxable income.
Protection and next steps
Thomson says when it comes to fraud, it’s essential to “recognize, reject, report.”
- Recognize that fraudsters are using the telephone, the internet, email, texts and any other available medium to reach out to Canadians and steal their money.
- Reject the callers requests. When you get calls like this, take time to think about it and don’t be afraid to say “no” to the caller. Don’t react immediately but rather do your research, talk to friends and find out more about it. There is no need to follow the orders the caller is giving you.
- Report the incident as soon as possible. If it is not reported, police cannot be alerted to such scams and they cannot provide warnings to the public to prevent fraud.
Toronto police adds that no government agency will ever ask for sensitive information over the phone. A scam call should be reported to police, Service Canada and both Equifax and TransUnion credit bureaus.
However, both police and Service Canada will only launch an investigation if you suspect and can show fraudulent activity on your account.
If you feel like someone else is actually using your SIN:
- File a complaint with the police and be sure to ask for a case reference number and the officer’s name and telephone number.
- Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. It is jointly run by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police and Competition Bureau Canada and they can guide you further.
- Call Equifax and TransUnion and request a copy of your credit profile to review it for any suspicious activity. They can also flag your account for potential fraud if needed for a small fee.
- Inform your bank and creditors on the phone and in writing.
- If you find any irregularities in your snail mail, like opened envelopes or missing documents, inform Canada Post.
Once you’ve filed all the necessary reports and collected all the documents from various agencies proving fraud or misuse of your SIN, take them to a Service Canada centre in person along with an original ID, to file a report.
“It can happen to anyone, you’re not above and beyond it,” says Ranj. “You can be the smartest cookie, you can be as street smart as you can. But until it happens, you can’t be that cocky about it.”
Sources: Service Canada, Toronto Police, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre