Half a million Canadians got one hell of a shock last week when Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) announced it lost the personal information of over 500,000 former students.
The federal government misplaced an external hard drive with the social insurance numbers, personal finance information and other personal information of 538,000 Canadians who went to school from 2000 to 2006.
This includes a number of former Dalhousie students.
Bronwyn Rodd completed her master’s degree and most of her PhD in English at Dal a couple of years ago. She says she’s horrified and angry, but not surprised.
“In my experience, the student loans office hasn’t been a model of administrative competency,” says Rodd.
“For example, I go by my middle name, which I indicate on all of my forms. Lots of other Canadians do as well. But they seem utterly unable to comprehend or deal with that. At one point I had to send them copies of two or three different photo IDs because they thought I was two different people.”
Rodd heard about the breach from a co-worker and called the toll-free number posted by HRSDC. She, along with the rest of the affected former students, was told a letter would follow outlining the things they can do to protect themselves from identity fraud.
Rodd isn’t alone. Abby Crosby works at Mount Saint Vincent University. She was horrified to learn that her information was lost as well. But for Crosby, the sting is more piercing: this is the second time Crosby’s student loan information has been lost.
“The same information was stolen at Centennial College while I was a student there,” says Crosby. “I kind of shrugged that one off, but I’m really irritated about this huge privacy breach and the whole ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ attitude.”
This time, she might get some compensation.
Newfoundland lawyer Bob Buckingham has begun the process of launching a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the students. Smaller lawsuits are also popping up across the country: lawyers in Calgary and Edmonton are trying to launch suits on behalf of Alberta students. But first, the suit has to be approved by the judiciary.
Rodd says she supports the class-action suit and has been in touch with Buckingham. Beyond that, she says all she can do is watch her accounts and hope for the best.
“I’m just going to monitor my accounts myself. They recommend getting agencies to do that, but they charge a fee and as of now Student Loans isn’t offering to take that fee off my monthly payment.”
The local student loan office declined comment, pointing to the federal government’s statement for information.
Students in Quebec, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories aren’t affected by the security breach.
Are you worried you’re one of the half-million affected? The government has set up a hotline. Call 1-866-885-1866 with your SIN on-hand.