The Social Insurance Number Code of Practice
Section 2 - SIN holders' responsibilities
By law, Canadian citizens, newcomers to Canada or temporary residents must have a Social Insurance Number (SIN) to work in Canada or to receive benefits and services from government programs.
You must provide your SIN to benefit from some government programs and services, and to your employer within three (3) days after the day on which your employment begins.
Since it is not against the law to ask for an individual's SIN, many private sector organizations do request your SIN. Businesses might ask for your SIN as identification or to check your credit rating. Your SIN is confidential and your SIN card is not a piece of identification. Your SIN is issued only to you and you have to protect it. You should only provide your SIN when it is required by law.
2.1 Key responsibilities of SIN holders
As a SIN holder, you have four key responsibilities to protect your SIN:
1. Never give out your SIN unless you are sure it is legally required or you are satisfied it is necessary.
- You must provide your SIN to take part in some government programs and/or services. For example, the Canada Revenue Agency requires your SIN when you file your income tax, or when you apply for Employment Insurance (EI) or Canada Pension Plan (CPP)/ Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) benefits
- In the private sector, you must provide your SIN to your employer for income tax and benefit purposes. You must also give it to financial institutions for accounts that pay interest
- Except when required for government programs and services, it is your decision when to share your SIN information and with whom.
2. Take steps to protect your SIN, your SIN card and other personal information from theft.
- Your SIN is confidential and contains important information. If it is stolen along with other personal information, your SIN could be used by someone else to gain access to a wide range of benefits, services, and information in your name
- Keep your SIN card in a safe place, like a safety deposit box. Do not carry it in your wallet or purse.
- Follow the rules in Annex 1, Fraud and Identity Theft: Dos and Don'ts to Protect Yourself and Your SIN.
3. Inform Service Canada and other appropriate authorities if you believe your SIN is being used illegally.
- Stolen, lost or borrowed SINs are used to defraud governments, businesses and individuals. If someone else uses your SIN to work illegally or to obtain credit, you may be asked to pay additional tax for income you did not earn or encounter difficulty when you apply for credit
- If you suspect your SIN is being used illegally or there is a risk it will be used inappropriately, there are steps you should take. To get instructions and contact information, refer to Annex 3, SIN at Risk: To Do List for SIN Holders.
4. Ensure that your personal information on the Register is accurate, complete and current. Contact Service Canada when:
- you change your name (through marriage, adoption or a legal change of name)
- your citizenship status changes
- your SIN card is lost or stolen
- you suspect that someone is illegally using your SIN
- there is a death of a family member
- you discover that information on your SIN record is incorrect or incomplete.
For more information on how to update your information in the Register, visit the Service Canada website or call toll-free 1-800-206-7218 and select option “3”.
Agents are available Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (your local time), except statutory holidays.
If you are calling from outside Canada, the number is: 1-506-548-7961 (long distance charges apply), from 8:00 am to 8:30 pm (Atlantic time).
2.2 Questions and answers for SIN holders
1. Why is your SIN such an important part of your personal information and privacy?
Your SIN is required to access government benefits. Use, abuse and misuse of the SIN may affect the administration of federal and provincial programs, as well as the operations of the private sector. When the SIN is not linked with its rightful owner, the wrong person may receive government benefits, services, tax refunds or bank credits. In addition, sensitive personal information may be revealed to unauthorized people, which can lead to identity theft and other types of fraud. The SIN is a key piece of information that may be used to obtain more of your personal data and invade your privacy. To prevent fraud and to ensure that your personal information remains private, you must protect your SIN from misuse.
2. Why do you need a SIN?
For most individuals, the main uses of the SIN are to:
- obtain employment
- pay statutory contributions for and receive certain federal/provincial government benefits and services
- pay income tax and receive a tax refund
- provide to banks and institutions where interest is earned (i.e. investments)
Every person who works in insurable or pensionable employment in Canada is required to have a SIN. Employers are required by law to request your SIN within three (3) days after the day on which your employment begins. If you do not already have a SIN when you start working, you must apply for a SIN, provide proof to your employer that you have applied, and inform your employer of your SIN within three (3) days after the day you receive it. You must also provide your SIN when completing your income tax return or when applying for EI or CPP/QPP benefits.
3. What does your employer do with your SIN?
Your employer uses your SIN to provide information to the government about your income, the amount of income tax deducted and the amounts withheld for government benefit programs and services (for example, EI, CPP/QPP).
4. For what other purposes does the government use the SIN?
In addition to employment, pension, and income tax purposes, you may be required to provide your SIN for:
- Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG) and Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP)
- Child Tax Benefits
- Student loans
- Goods and Services Tax (GST) or Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) claims
- Social Assistance benefits
- Veterans' benefits and programs
- Workers' Compensation benefits
The SIN is used to ensure that individuals are accurately identified for these programs.
For a complete list and brief description of the federal legislation and programs that are specifically permitted to use the SIN, refer to Annex 2, Authorized Federal Uses of the SIN.
5. Who can ask for your SIN?
Although only specific government departments and programs are required to collect and use the SIN, there is no legislation that prevents private sector organizations from requesting it.
However, you do not have to provide your SIN to a private sector organization unless it is for a specific purpose linked to a government requirement, such as employment or income tax purposes. For example, an employer will collect an employee's SIN to provide them with Records of Employment and various year-end reporting slips, such as T4, for income tax purposes. Also, provincial or municipal agencies can use the SIN to report financial assistance payments. Financial institutions such as banks and trust companies that pay you interest or income are also required to ask for your SIN.
6. When are you NOT required by law to provide your SIN?
You do not have to give your SIN when you purchase or obtain most goods and services. You may be asked to provide your SIN for the following purposes, but you are not legally required to provide it when:
- proving your identity (except for specific government programs)
- completing an employment application (before you get a job offer)
- completing an application to rent a property
- completing applications for credit products (e.g. credit card, loan or mortgage) with a financial institution to facilitate a credit rating check
- cashing a cheque
- applying for a video club membership
- completing some banking transactions (mortgages, lines of credit, loans)
- completing medical questionnaires
- renting a car
- subscribing to long-distance or cellular telephone services
- writing a will
- applying to universities and colleges
- negotiating a lease with a landlord
- registering for supplemental health offered by your employer
- communicating electronically, particularly online
7. Why do some private sector organizations request the SIN?
Private sector organizations, such as banks, credit unions and trust companies, have a legal obligation to ask for a customer's SIN for any accounts and investments that pay income (e.g. interest and dividends). If an account is not income-earning, the organization is not required by law to ask for the customer's SIN and the customer is not required to provide it.
Some private sector organizations will ask for a SIN when checking your credit rating, to increase the probability they are checking or updating the right person's credit records. Some ask for identification or client account number even though there is no legal basis to request it. Although this practice is strongly discouraged, it is not illegal to do so. However, the organization must tell the customer why the SIN is being collected. If it is not for a legal requirement, the organization must clearly state that the SIN is optional and provide the client with other options.
Before providing your SIN, as a client or customer, you have a right to ask what the legal requirements are for your SIN. Except for specific government programs, you have a choice about when your SIN is collected and used. It is your decision when to share your SIN information and it is one you should consider carefully.
8. What should you know about the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents ActFootnote 1?
The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) protects your right to privacy by controlling the ability of organizations to collect, use or disclose your personal information when they have it for legitimate business purposes.
The key to your right to privacy is your ability to control your personal information, including the SIN. The Act gives you control over your personal information by requiring organizations to obtain your consent to collect, use or disclose information about you.
According to PIPEDA, you have the right to:
- know why an organization collects, uses or discloses your personal information
- expect an organization to collect, use or disclose your personal information reasonably and appropriately, and to use the information only for the purpose to which you agreed to
- know who in the organization is responsible for protecting your personal information
- expect an organization to protect your personal information by taking appropriate security measures
- expect the personal information an organization holds about you to be accurate, complete and up-to-date
- access your personal information and request amendments
- complain about how an organization handles your personal information. This can be kept confidential if you prefer.
PIPEDA does not usually apply to not-for-profit organizations. However, it is recommended that not-for-profit organizations offer their members, donors or supporters the same consideration and protection required by commercial organizations under PIPEDA. For more information on how PIPEDA applies to the use of the SIN, please visit the Office of the Privacy Commissioner's website.
9. What should you do when a business or organization asks for your SIN?
- If you are unsure, ask if you are required by law to provide it.
- Ask why it is being requested, how it will be used and with whom it will be shared.
- Your SIN card is not an identity card and should not be used for that purpose. For this reason, you should store your card safely, in a secure file cabinet at home or in a safety deposit box.
- If your SIN is not legally required for the product or service and the organization refuses to provide the product or service unless you disclose your SIN, ask to speak to the person in charge or use the organization's complaint process. Many organizations are not aware of the appropriate uses of the SIN, and once informed, may willingly change their practices.
- If you are not satisfied with the organization's response, contact the organization's industry association, ombudsman or complaint office. For example, the Canadian Marketing Association and the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments handle customer complaints about their member companies.
- If you are unsuccessful, you may lodge a complaint against the organization with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada at www.privcom.gc.ca or by calling 1-800-282-1376.
10. What is the Social Insurance Register?
The Social Insurance Register (the Register) is the electronic register that stores the personal information people provide when they apply for a SIN. It contains every SIN issued since 1964, as well as basic personal information necessary to identify SIN holders – a person's name, date of birth, place of birth, and parents' names, as well as the date when a SIN holder dies.
11. What is identity theft and how can you be affected by it?
Identity theft is the unauthorized collection and use of your personal information, usually for criminal purposes. Thieves steal your identity – your name, date of birth, address, SIN and other personal information – and use these to:
- open bank accounts and obtain credit cards
- receive government benefits and services
- rent vehicles, equipment, hotel rooms or housing
- redirect your mail
- get a job
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in North America. It is an increasing concern for law enforcement agencies, government, financial institutions, businesses and people in every walk of life.
For more information, visit the Public Safety Canada website or contact the Canadian Anti-fraud Call Centre, a national anti-fraud call centre that provides advice and assistance about identity theft at 1-888-495-8501.
12. How can you protect yourself from fraud and identity theft?
Your SIN is important and contains confidential information. If it is stolen with other personal information, your SIN could be used by someone else to gain access to a wide range of benefits, services and information in your name. Failure to safeguard your SIN can make you a victim of fraud and identity theft. No one is safe from this type of crime.
Becoming a victim of identity theft can have serious consequences. It can be a traumatic, expensive and time-consuming experience. Victims are often not aware of what is happening and the effects can be very long lasting. Although you may not be held responsible and made to pay for the financial charges others made under your name, it could take years to restore your financial credibility. In that time, your credit history may be damaged to the point that you could be refused financing for loans, business ventures or other major expenditures.
13. What do you do if you suspect you may be the victim of identity theft or someone is using your SIN inappropriately?
Even if you take steps to safeguard your personal information, you could still fall victim to identity theft. Thieves are becoming more sophisticated and creative in their attempts to steal personal information.
You need to know what to do to limit the amount of damage. You will find helpful information in Annex 3, SIN at Risk: To Do List for SIN Holders.
14. What types of fraud relate to the SIN and what should I do if I suspect fraud?
Theft and fraud are criminal offences on their own. There are also theft and fraud crimes related specifically to the SIN, which are punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both. It is a crime to:
- knowingly apply for more than one SIN
- use somebody else's SIN to deceive or defraud
- lend or sell a SIN
- manufacture a SIN card
If you suspect or know that someone else is using your SIN, call toll-free 1-800-206-7218 and select option “3”. If you are calling from outside of Canada, dial 1-506-548-7961 (long distance charges apply).
2.3 Service Canada's commitment to SIN holders
Service Canada shares with each SIN holder the responsibility of protecting an individual's SIN from inappropriate use, fraud and theft, and ensuring that his or her information in the Social Insurance Register (the Register) is accurate and current.
Service Canada and its partners take this responsibility very seriously and have many ways of safeguarding SINs and updating the Register to make it accurate. For example, we:
- restrict access to your SIN and personal information, allowing only those who are officially entitled to have legal access to it and a “need to know”
- protect personal information in our care from being stolen or seen by anyone who is not entitled to it
- carefully and thoroughly check that the identity of SIN holders and applicants is correct
- maintain the accuracy and completeness of personal information held in the Register (through consistent use of policies, procedures and standards)
- in cases of suspected identity theft, monitor the client's SIN file for unauthorized transactions and uses
- educate SIN holders about the proper protection, use and disclosure of the SIN, and provide assistance to all Canadians wanting information about the SIN or government services related to it.
For a full description of Service Canada and its partners' roles and responsibilities related to the SIN, refer to Section 5, Service Canada and its Partners' Responsibilities.
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