Protecting your Social Insurance Number

September 2016

Your Social Insurance Number (SIN) is a confidential number used for income reporting purposes. However, some organizations ask for the SIN for other purposes.

The SIN is important to privacy protection because it can open the door to your personal information and put you at risk to fraud and identity theft.

This document offers information about who is specifically authorized to ask for your SIN, and what you can do if others request that you provide the number.

What are the privacy risks related to the SIN?

Your SIN can be used to steal your identity. Along with other personal information, someone may be able to use your SIN to apply for a credit card or open a bank account, rent vehicles, equipment, or accommodation in your name, leaving you responsible for the bills, charges, bad cheques and taxes.

How can I protect my SIN?

Key steps you can take to protect your SIN include:

  • Store your SIN card and other documents containing your SIN in a safe place. (Do not keep your SIN card in your wallet.)
  • Shred documents containing your SIN. (Do not put them in the recycling bin.)
  • Provide your SIN only when legally required.
  • Take steps to protect your SIN if you believe it is being used fraudulently.

When do I have to provide my SIN?

There are a select and limited number of federal government departments and programs specifically authorized to collect the SIN.

As well, some private-sector organizations must collect the SIN for income reporting purposes.

Service Canada, the federal government department responsible for the administration of the SIN, has identified some of the most common uses of the SIN:

Note for Quebec residents: Hydro Québec is required by provincial law to collect a SIN for opening new accounts

Further information:

When don’t I have to provide my SIN?

Some organizations ask for the SIN for reasons unrelated to income reporting purposes – often because it is a simple method of identification.

While this is not a recommended practice, there is no law preventing private-sector organizations from asking for the SIN for other purposes such as identification.

In these cases, you are under no obligation to provide your SIN.

Service Canada has identified the following examples of when you do not need to provide your SIN:

  • Proving your identity (except for specific government programs)
  • Completing a job application before you get the job
  • Completing an application to rent a property
  • Negotiating a lease with a landlord
  • Completing credit card application
  • Cashing a cheque
  • Completing some banking transactions (mortgage, line of credit, loan)
  • Completing a medical questionnaire
  • Renting a car
  • Subscribing to long-distance or cellular telephone services
  • Writing a will
  • Applying to a university or college.

What should I do if I am asked for my SIN?

We recommend that you do not give the SIN to a private-sector organization unless there is a legal requirement to do so.

If you are asked for you SIN, here are some tips:

  • Ask if you are required by law to provide it.
  • Ask why the person needs it, how it will be used and to whom it will be given.
  • If it is not required by law (and you are not satisfied with the explanation), tell the person you prefer not to use the SIN and offer other identification. Your SIN is not a piece of identification.
  • If you can’t resolve your concern with front-line staff, ask for the contact information for the person within the organization responsible for privacy issues (often called the privacy officer). Discuss your concerns with that individual, who may be able to address the issue.
  • If the organization refuses to give you the product or service unless you give your SIN, complain to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

What obligations do businesses have under federal privacy law?

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada recommends that no private-sector organization request the SIN from a customer unless there is a legal requirement to do so.

While there is no law barring businesses from asking for the SIN where there is no legal requirement to do so, they do need to make people aware that collection of a SIN is optional and not a condition of service.

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) sets out ground rules for how private sector organizations may collect, use or disclose personal information – including the SIN – in the course of commercial activities.

Under the law, organizations cannot require you to consent to the collection, use or disclosure of your personal information unless it is required for a specific and legitimate purpose.

This means that, unless an organization can demonstrate that your SIN is required by law, or that no alternative identifier would suffice to complete the transaction, you cannot be denied a product or service on the grounds of your refusal to provide your SIN.

Further information:

Best Practices for the use of Social Insurance Numbers in the private sector

My SIN may have been compromised, what should I do?

Service Canada advises people who suspect their SIN is being used fraudulently to take the following steps:

  1. File a complaint with the police. Ask for the case reference number, and the officer’s name and telephone number. If you choose to obtain a copy of the police report, make sure it states your name and SIN.
  2. Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501. The national anti-fraud call centre is jointly managed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police and Competition Bureau Canada. They provide advice and assistance about identity theft.
  3. Call Canada’s two national credit bureaus. Ask for a free copy of your credit report. Review it for any suspicious activity. Also check to see if your credit file should be flagged. This will indicate that your personal information has been put at risk and may be vulnerable to fraud.
    1. Toll-Free Numbers
    2. Equifax: 1-800-465-7166
    3. TransUnion: 1-800-663-9980 (for residents of Quebec: 1-877-713-3393)
  4.  Inform your bank and creditors by phone and in writing about any irregularities.
  5. Report any irregularities in your mail delivery to Canada Post, for example, opened envelopes, missing financial statements or documents.
  6. Visit a Service Canada Centre and bring all the necessary documents with you proving fraud or misuse of your SIN. Also bring an original identity document (your birth certificate, or immigration or citizenship document. Officials will review your information and provide you with assistance and guidance.

How do I apply for a SIN?  What should I do if I have lost my SIN?

Visit the Service Canada web site, to find answers to general questions about the SIN such as how to apply for a SIN, or replace a lost or stolen card.

Service Canada can be reached by telephone at: 1 800 O-Canada (1-800-622-6232).

To visit a Service Canada office in person, see the online list of Service Canada offices.

Have further questions about privacy issues related to your SIN?

For more information about privacy issues related to your SIN, please contact us.


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