Canada Student Loan borrowers who were victims of a privacy breach can get free credit protection after an employee lost a portable hard drive containing personal information for about 583,000 people.
In a news release, Diane Finley, the minister for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), announced it had contracted credit bureau Equifax to provide credit protection to the affected borrowers.
"While there is no evidence that information has been fraudulently accessed or used, I want to reassure Canadians that we are serious about protecting their personal information," she said.
The Equifax service will flag credit files and add an extra layer of protection against potential fraud by notifying lending institutions to take extra precautions with applications involving the affected person.
What it doesn't do is monitor the person's credit for fraudulent activity and while credit bureaus do offer extra protection, they come at an additional cost.
The move came after the government notified the public several weeks ago that there had been a privacy breach involving Canada Student Loan borrowers from 2000-2006.
There were 4,500 Islanders included in the 583,000 people whose Social Insurance Number and other private information was on a portable hard drive that went missing in December.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the RCMP have both been investigating the matter.
A spokeswoman for the privacy commissioner's office said they have received several hundred calls and complaints from people across the country who were concerned about the breach.
Anyone who was affected can call HRSDC instead of the credit bureau to get their credit file flagged and will have to provide consent for the government to share their information with Equifax.
When news of the breach became public, the government announced it was sending letters to everyone who was affected.
The same information was given to anyone who called to see if they were on the list, but many people have yet to receive the letters.
Alyson Queen, a spokeswoman for HRSDC, said that's because there was such a large number of letters going out that they weren't all sent at once.
The letters were also updated once the government knew it would be working with Equifax to provide the credit protection.
"Given the large volume of letters it was to be staggered quite a few days," she said.
Queen said since the breach was made public, HRSDC staff have fielded about 120,000 calls, about half of which were from people who were affected.
"Pretty significant call volumes," she said.
Since HRSDC notified the public about the privacy breach, it said there was no reason to believe the missing information was used for fraud and Queen said that is still the case.
"The hard drive is missing but through all of that investigative process we have no reason to believe that the information has been compromised and so obviously we will continue to investigate further," she said.
For Amanda Thoy, who was one of the privacy breach victims, she said what the government is doing doesn't actually monitor people's credit and only flags it.
"What we were fighting was for them to pay for the credit monitoring," she said.
Thoy said she is also concerned that the government isn't setting anything up to pay for fraud insurance or help people if they do become victims of fraud because of the privacy breach.
"There is no fund to pay that out," she said.
To register for the credit protection call 1-866-885-1866.