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Why does the CRA send our SINs in the mail? Add to ...

Everyone knows that your social insurance number is sacred. You never carry it in your wallet. You don't give it out to just anyone. In the wrong hands, your SIN can be used to steal your identity.

So why does the government insist on including it every time they send out a tax package?

I wrote recently about the dangers of mail theft at tax time and how thieves can find everything they need to steal your identity right there in your unlocked mailbox.

Several astute readers pointed out that they wouldn't have to worry so much about mail theft if the CRA would just stop including their SIN with every mailing.

"I am baffled. We spend a lot of time and energy discussing how to protect ourselves (and justifiably so), but here is a simple letter that literally makes us very vulnerable to criminality," wrote Luis Carvalho of Burlington, Ont. "I have contacted the CRA, my MP, my MPP and friends in this regards but there seems to be no clear answer on how to stop these letters from arriving by snail mail. Why isn't there a way to receive CRA info on a secure CRA website?"

CRA spokesman Philippe Brideau says the CRA is considering changing to electronic delivery of tax packages, "but we're not ready to go that route yet." In the meantime, he suggests those who do not want their SIN included in their tax package opt for electronic filing. When you file electronically, your tax package includes an access code only, no SIN, and that code can only be used by you because you must first log in to the CRA's secure website.

"We are currently initiating a policy to limit the display of the social insurance number on certain outgoing correspondence. This new policy will entail displaying only a portion of the SIN," Mr. Brideau says. "The CRA has begun to implement this policy on some correspondence with the intention to extend this approach to all CRA correspondence with taxpayers, such as the personalized T1 packages."

One reader said my article alerted her to the fact that she hadn't yet received her tax package. She had moved in November and had followed the CRA procedures for changing an address, so where was that envelope with all her confidential personal information?

Mr. Brideau told me that in order for the approximately 12 million personalized T1 packages to be delivered on time, the agency must submit its address list database to its printing services by September.

If you move between September and January, he said, your tax package will be sent to your old address, where the onus is on the new residents to lawfully return it to Canada Post. Canada Post sends all returned tax packages to a central tax centre in Winnipeg, where they are then destroyed. You can also pay Canada Post to redirect your mail to your new address or put a hold on mail delivery if you are going away.

The CRA mailed T1 packages in December, so you should have received yours by now. If you haven't, you can pick one up at any Tax Service Centre or Canada Post office. To obtain a new access code for electronic filing, call the CRA directly at 1-800-959-8281.

Are you missing money?

Misdirected mail could be the reason why the CRA holds $25-million in unclaimed tax refunds. To find out if any of those cheques are yours, call your local CRA office. Call 1-800-959-1953 to find out about unclaimed GST and HST cheques.

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