Print Edition: February 6, 2013
The last thing anyone needs is more debt, especially if it comes as a result of identity theft.
In January, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) announced a disappearance of one of the department’s portable hard drives. With it, the HRSDC misplaced the personal information of over 583,000 borrowers, all of whom were part of the Canada Student Loans program between 2000 and 2006.
Most current UFV students won’t have loans dating back that far, but when media and communications professor Darren Blakeborough heard about the breach, he thought it was worth checking his own student debt.
“As a pessimist, my first thought was, ‘well, of course that includes me,’” he said, “because I have loans stretching from 1997 to 2008 or 2009. The law of averages was in my favour at that point.”
Blakeborough decided to wait until he received a letter confirming his beliefs, but no letter came.
It wasn’t until he called a number that a Facebook friend had posted that he got his answer.
“The guy asked if I got a letter, and I said no … I thought, ‘Good, I’m not included,’” he explained. “Then he came back and said, ‘Yeah, your information was included.’”
After brief set of instructions to call Equifax and get a flag put on his credit file, the phone call ended. Blakeborough’s wife called the number and discovered she was included as well.
“She talked to somebody else,” he said. “They just grabbed a script and read an apology to her. Wasn’t I good enough for an apology?”
Many reports have come out detailing exactly what information was on the drive. On January 11, the Canada Student Loans website canlearn.ca reported that the drive contained student names, birth dates, contact information and social insurance numbers as well as loan balances. The report indicates that authorities have no reason to believe anything nefarious has been done with the information.
“While there is no evidence at this time that any of the information has been accessed or used for fraudulent purposes,” the website states, “this incident is being taken very seriously and the Office of the Minister has engaged the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”
Since the breach, the public has launched websites and Facebook groups to express their feelings on the situation. Several media sources, including The Globe and Mail, report that a Newfoundland lawyer has filed a class action lawsuit. This suit is one of three that have been launched against the HRSDC, which Blakeborough looked into.
“With [the suit] that he filed, it automatically includes everybody whose information was involved,” Blakeborough explained. “So I’ll just sit back and see what’s going on in the meantime.”
The loan department discovered that the drive was missing in November, but failed to announce it until January. There is no confirmation either way as to if the drive was lost or stolen, so the delay in going public was supposedly to avoid unnecessary panic.
Blakeborough was not thrilled to learn that for two months the drive was unaccounted for.
“As a person whose information was in some netherworld for two months, it really pisses me off,” he said.
The HRSDC has purchased a credit protection package from Equifax for all those included in the breach. According to canlearn.ca, it will put a flag on the accounts of those affected for six years, and is designed to alert grantors to the possibility of fraud and request further identifying information before granting loans.
Blakeborough still says enough hasn’t been done to rectify the situation. As a doctoral candidate, he had a lot of information connected to the missing hard drive. He knows that loan forgiveness will never happen, but he says he would see it as a fair trade.
“If you can’t take care of my personal information, the least you can do is forgive me this debt,” he said. “I will call it even, and I will talk nicely of Canada Student Loans to everybody that I know if they do that for me.”