Hacking leads to frozen accounts and stopped EI payments for P.E.I. residents

·5 min read
Mackayla Morrison of Tyne Valley, P.E.I., shown with her son Thomas, says she was hacked last September and had to go six weeks without income while she was on maternity leave.   (Mackayla Morrison  - image credit)
Mackayla Morrison of Tyne Valley, P.E.I., shown with her son Thomas, says she was hacked last September and had to go six weeks without income while she was on maternity leave. (Mackayla Morrison - image credit)

A growing number of P.E.I. residents have had the accounts connected to their employment insurance frozen, and their payments stopped, after the accounts were hacked.

Mackayla Morrison of Tyne Valley says she was hacked last September and had to go six weeks without income while she was on maternity leave.

The mother of four young children said it took an emotional toll, with many sleepless nights spent worrying about how she was going to pay the bills.

"It's been tough, it's been very tough," said Morrison, who has since started to get her cheques again.

"But at the end of the day, somebody still has my personal information and I've still not been told how or when. How long have they had my information and how did they get it?"

Dozens of people reached out to CBC News with similar stories, some saying they have had their EI accounts hacked multiple times.

Cheques deposited into somebody else's account

The stories are similar: They were expecting a cheque, but that cheque didn't arrive. They started to make inquiries and found out that payment had been deposited into somebody else's account, sometimes into bank accounts in Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia.

Virginia McKay, with her daughter, Mckayla, at their home in western P.E.I.  Service Canada officials told her that her cheque had been deposited into an account in Kitchener, Ont.
Virginia McKay, with her daughter, Mckayla, at their home in western P.E.I. Service Canada officials told her that her cheque had been deposited into an account in Kitchener, Ont.(Virgina McKay)

Virginia McKay, who lives in western P.E.I., said she's had her account hacked twice.

The single mother of four said she had to reach out to social services because her EI account has been frozen since early April and she still hasn't gotten it sorted out.

She said an official at the Service Canada office in O'Leary said her cheque had been deposited into an account in Kitchener, Ont.

'I just lost it'

McKay said she's never lived in Kitchener, has no family there and has never stepped foot in the southeastern Ontario city.

"They switched my name, my address and my banking information," said McKay, who works seasonally in the oyster fishery.

"I just lost it. I said, 'I don't understand how.'"

An integrity officer told McKay her file is still under review.

My reaction to her was: "It took you exactly 13 days to give my money to someone else. But I've now waited for 14 days and still nothing." - Virginia McKay

"My reaction to her was: 'It took you exactly 13 days to give my money to someone else. But I've now waited for 14 days and still nothing.'

"She goes, 'My sincere apologies.'

"I'm like, 'Your apologies do not feed my children, and your apologies do not pay my bills.'"

People waiting too long

Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey said he's been dealing with about 30 cases in his federal riding, located in western P.E.I.

Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey says it’s taking too long to get the situation resolved, saying he’s heard of people waiting up to two months to get cheques flowing again.
Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey says it’s taking too long to get the situation resolved, saying he’s heard of people waiting up to two months to get cheques flowing again. (Submitted by Bobby Morrissey)

Morrissey says it's taking too long to get the situation resolved, adding he's heard of people waiting up to two months to get cheques flowing again.

"The issue is once a hack has occurred, which leads to two sets of information, then the system will automatically shut down and it will not issue a payment because it doesn't know which one is the corrupt account and which one is the legitimate one," the Liberal MP said.

"The system will not issue a payment; it will actually freeze the account until personnel can establish who is the right account."

Morrissey said the situation is not isolated to P.E.I. He said there are "hot spots" across the country, including rural Ontario and northern New Brunswick.

'No widespread hack'

In an emailed response to CBC News, a spokesperson with Employment and Social Development Canada said there has been "no widespread hack." The email went on to say the department continues to monitor and conduct regular scans of accounts.

Dozens and dozens of people reached out to CBC News with similar stories, some of whom have had their EI accounts hacked multiple times.
Dozens and dozens of people reached out to CBC News with similar stories, some of whom have had their EI accounts hacked multiple times. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

"We know that in time of crisis, the risk of fraud is heightened and we are leveraging our analytics and intelligence capabilities to disrupt, detect and prevent fraud."

As for the time it's taking to get accounts back online, the department said it is mindful that "Canadians need their benefits more than ever," adding that measures are in place "to support clients on a priority basis when their benefits have been impacted as a result of identify theft."

The department said if someone suspects an account has been compromised, they should file a complaint with police, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, and call Canada's two national credit bureaus (Equifax and TransUnion) as well as all banks and creditors.

CBC is still waiting for a response from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

'You feel so lost when you're dealing with this'

P.E.I. RCMP Sgt. Chris Gunn said police have been contacted by a number of people who have had their accounts hacked.

But he said given that much of this activity is happening off-Island, there is little local officers can do.

P.E.I. RCMP Sgt. Chris Gunn says the police agency has been contacted by a number of people who have had their accounts hacked.
P.E.I. RCMP Sgt. Chris Gunn says the police agency has been contacted by a number of people who have had their accounts hacked. (CBC)

Meanwhile, Mackayla Morrison said she started a Facebook group in an effort to support people going through similar situations.

So far, she has more than 60 members, almost all from the Island.

"You feel so lost when you're dealing with this and going through it that you don't know where to turn. And the people that you think have your back and are going to help you don't want to seem to give you that comfort," she said.

"It was a way for me to connect with people and know that I wasn't alone."

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