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Police probing whether ServiceOntario ‘security violations’ hit debit and credit cards

Anyone forced to wait more than 20 minutes at a ServiceOntario centre willl have their fees waived if the Liberals are re-elected in October.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Police are investigating whether consumers who renew their drivers' licences and obtain birth certificates at electronic ServiceOntario kiosks are the victims of a debit and credit card scam.

The Ontario government has temporarily shut down all 72 kiosks across the province to check for signs of tampering. Debit card companies informed the government about security violations at kiosks in four shopping malls in the Greater Toronto Area - Erin Mills Town Centre, Vaughan Mills, Albion Centre and Promenade Mall.

A spokeswoman for Vaughan Mills said officials from ServiceOntario removed the mall's kiosk early Thursday morning. The mall has handed over surveillance tape to police.

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"It doesn't sound like they're going to be offering the service in that format any time soon, considering they're pulling the unit from the floor," spokeswoman Jamie MacLean said.

Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar said people tried to copy some of the information on consumers' debit cards and credit cards, but he does not know how many people were affected.

"It's happening everywhere," he told reporters on Thursday, referring to warnings by police about new methods being used to skim information from debit and credit cards in the GTA. "We just wanted to make sure the information is protected."

The government came under fire from opposition members for waiting eight hours to tell the public about the security breach. The government shut down the machines shortly after it became aware of the problem at 2:30 on Wednesday afternoon and posted notices that they have been temporarily withdrawn from service. But the government did not issue a news release until shortly before 11 p.m. on Wednesday.

Progressive Conservative MPP Jane McKenna accused Mr. Takhar of waiting until "most Ontarians were in bed" to notify the public.

"If the minister was really concerned about protecting Ontarians' private financial data, he would have acted decisively, as opposed to sneaking out a press release at 10:45 last night," Ms. McKenna said in Question Period.

Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, however, praised the government, saying it moved decisively to close the kiosks once it became aware of the problem.

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Mr. Takhar said there is no indication that personal information such as consumers' home addresses and health card numbers has been compromised.

The kiosks account for only 4 per cent of all ServiceOntario transactions. Consumers can continue to get documents online at serviceontario.ca or at one of the 300 ServiceOntario counters staffed by employees across the province.

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