Canada Revenue Agency locked taxpayers out of My Account due to data breach
Since February 16, 2021, some Canadians have been locked out of their CRA My Account because the CRA removed their addresses from their accounts. Many taxpayers have spent hours calling the CRA in the hope of getting this issue resolved and received very little information. The CRA made the announcement a few days later that it had not been the target of a cyberattack, but certain users may have been involved in separate data breaches and were believed to have been using the same login information for both the CRA's website and other online services. However, earlier the CRA only provided taxpayers with a very vague explanation for locking them out - "a security precaution in the context of ongoing investigative work." To make matters worse, the CRA provided very little useful information to taxpayers regarding how to regain their access. According to Globalnews.ca, Praveen Viswanath, an IT worker based in Vancouver who had been locked out of his CRA account since February 16, said he has been calling the CRA GE line at least once a day but was never able to get through to any agent. Although most taxpayers don't need immediate access to their account to make transactions, their main concern is how CRA handles and safeguards sensitive taxpayer data. Although a CRA representative made a statement that additional call centre agents had been hired for what promises to be an exceptionally busy tax season amid the pandemic, a CBC news story says that a reporter from CBC news tried dialing a CRA helpline on the same day and the recording answer said "all of our agents are currently busy and our agent queues are full".
Taxpayers' Ombudsperson launched review into CRA's lack of communications
On February 23, 2021, the Taxpayers' Ombudsperson, Francois Boileau, launched a review on the CRA's communication with the taxpayers after this incident happened. So far, he and his office has observed the following:
- The CRA did not initially provide adequate information to those taxpayers who were affected based on the public information available.
- Many taxpayers have experienced difficulties reaching the CRA to unlock their My Account or to obtain more information regarding the situation. The Taxpayers' Ombudsperson has received an increased number of complaints over the previous week in relation to this issue alone.
- Many taxpayers want to know how to regain access to their account in a timely manner so that they can access their slips and apply for emergency benefits.
The Taxpayers' Ombudsperson's office also mentioned that although the CRA has reacted quickly to administer many new benefits during this unprecedented covid-19 pandemic, it must ensure that proper safeguards are in place to protect taxpayers' sensitive information. When the CRA decided to lock taxpayers out of their My Accounts, it should have implemented a clear and useful communication strategy to help ease the stress and frustration to the taxpayers.
Consequently, the Taxpayers' Ombudsperson's office will be conducting a review of the steps taken by the CRA to provide complete, accurate and clear information to affected taxpayers in a timely manner, which should have been their primary concern. The Taxpayers' Ombudsperson's office also made it clear that it was their mandate to ensure the CRA uphold taxpayers' service rights, therefore taxpayers should contact the office if they were facing financial hardship as a result of any service-related issue caused by the CRA.
Pro tax tips - Canadian taxpayers have formal rights under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights
The office of the Taxpayers' Ombudsperson operates at arm's length from the CRA and works through independent and impartial examination of service-related complaints and systematic issues to enhance the CRA's accountability in its service to taxpayers. Its mandate is to uphold the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and to provide an independent review of unresolved taxpayer service complaints. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights sets out 16 very specific rights to protect taxpayers and make sure the CRA serves the public with "professionalism, courtesy and fairness". If you believe the CRA has unfairly targeted you and violated your rights under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, one of our experienced Canadian tax lawyers can help you to defend your rights.
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