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Are We Running Out of Social Insurance Number (s) ?

in Security

No, not sin, Social Insurance Number (s), that SIN.

If the Social Insurance Number is simply a number given out each time a Canadian asks for one, the Maximum number of encodings is simply 999,999,999 codes. That seems like a very large number and why would anyone worry about running out of numbers in this program? The Social Insurance Number has become the de facto standard for identification in Canada (especially financially), and a number to be guarded closely, so each number is very important.

Fake SIN Social Insurance Number
A very Fake Social Insurance Number

Some points to think about this number:

  • I don’t think anyone has the Social Insurance Number 000 000 001  or anything like that encoding, so there aren’t as many numbers as we think. Is the exact number of available SINs published anywhere? I don’t think it is, but maybe I missed out on that.
  • From 1973 to 1994 the three digit prefix (the first three numbers) increased by about 265 (if I compare my SIN to my children’s SIN), so not an insignificant increase. From 1994 to 2005 the prefix digits increased by 035. This assumes that the numbers are allocated in an increasing order.
  • There are no more plastic SIN Cards being made, you simply get a letter with your SIN and that is it!
  • Given 900 SIN were lost with the Heartbleed bug, how many more digits are lost due to identity theft and such?
  • Is there a recovery program for digits after someone dies? I don’t think so.
  • Temporary SINs have 9 as the first digit, and depending on where you apply your leading digit will reflect that (see Wikipedia for this)
  • There is a checksum to easily figure out if a SIN is real or bogus.

Fear Monger?

Am I just fear mongering now? It’s possible, but I just wonder if we are going to hear in about 20 years that the Social Insurance Number will go from being a 9 digit number to either:

  1. A 9 digit hexadecimal number (base 16) (e.g.  DEA DBE EF9 )
  2. A 12 digit regular number

Those would be simple fixes I suppose, except then every and any program that used the SIN for identification would need to be recoded (can you say Y2K ?) .

{ 14 comments }

  • Ben A February 15, 2019, 1:17 PM

    I know this is an old post, but I wanted to comment and say that there are 90 million possible valid SINs, with 10 million SINs for each starting digit from 1-9. Excluding temporary residents who receive SINs starting with a 9, that leaves 80 million possible SINs for Permanent Residents and Citizens. The population of Canada as of 2017 was 37 million, and projected to be 43-68 million by 2061 (statcan). It doesn’t seem likely that we will run out of SINs for a half century even with aggressive population growth estimates.

    Reply
    • bigcajunman February 15, 2019, 4:35 PM

      Although maybe by the end of this century we might be closer to running out. Good to know, thanks for the great comment. 🙂

      Reply
  • Alicia @ Financial Diffraction May 2, 2014, 9:12 AM

    My parents got me a card back when I was little – likely to do with RESP contributions. All I know is I have this horrible, bubble-letter signature on the card from when I was about 10. My fiancé laughs at me about it because it looks so childish on such an important piece of information. Not that I really use the card for anything considering that number just gets rattled off automatically 🙂

    Reply
  • debt debs April 16, 2014, 7:08 AM

    Did not know that about SINs. I always mix my SIN # up with my university ID #. Why I still remember that number, I don’t know. I can’t even remember my sister’s phone number that she recently changed. Well, maybe I do know but don’t want to admit it. Kinda like when the kids come over and say “Why do you have on the TV so loud?” FML

    Reply
  • Bet Crooks April 15, 2014, 3:58 PM

    Thanks for the info on the check sum. Some of the tax software I’ve experimented with rejects randomly made-up SIN numbers for test files. Now I know better how to get around that problem.

    Reply
  • aB April 15, 2014, 10:49 AM

    Are you sure about the ‘no more plastic cards’? My wife got a new one last year (got PR status), it did also come with a letter.
    It does not have the name or numbers extruded(?) like a credit card though, unlike the older ones.

    Reply
    • aB April 15, 2014, 10:51 AM

      Never mind.. the link has it in the first line.. guess we lucked out.

      Reply
      • bigcajunman April 15, 2014, 10:52 AM

        No worries, I will now treasure my little white card forever! 🙂

        Reply
        • aB April 16, 2014, 10:39 AM

          My wife loves my SIN card .. because I signed it when I was 8.
          She laughs every time she sees it.

  • LifeInsuranceCanada.com April 15, 2014, 10:30 AM

    >>>I don’t think you’re fear mongering.
    Oh, pretty sure he is :). Running out of SIN numbers doesn’t seem like something we need to be worried about. They can just add a digit or throw a letter into the mix.

    But if we are going to fear monger there’s other stuff reducing the number available – some of the combinations are reserved for specific statuses. I don’t know what they all are, but apparently you can tell someone’s residency or citizenship status from the last few digits of their number.

    Frankly, I’m more worried about running out of IP addresses. And I’m not worried about running out of IP addresses at all :).

    Reply
    • bigcajunman April 15, 2014, 10:37 AM

      We RAN out of IP addresses a long time ago, that is why IPV6 exists (and is very slowly being adopted). You should worry about the IP address thing if you are on the Internet, the longer we stay on old addressing, the easier it is for hackers to hide.

      Reply
  • Greg April 15, 2014, 10:06 AM

    I wondered why my kids had lower SINs than my wife and me, it turns out that the first digit of the SIN indicates the region where it was assigned-2&3 for Quebec, 4&5 for Ontario and 6 for the prairies for example. So the 265 difference between you and our kids must be due to your SINs being issued in different provinces.

    Not all SINs are valid, SIN numbers must pass a checksum which detects many transcription errors. Because the checksum detects all single digit errors and most adjacent digit transpositions, there are “only” between 100 and 200 million valid SINs. Ontario will probably be the first to overflow its SINs starting with 4 or 5 and need to start using SINs starting with 8 or 0, which currently aren’t assigned.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Insurance_Number

    Reply
    • bigcajunman April 15, 2014, 10:26 AM

      I like the fact that if your SIN starts with a “9” it is for temporary residents, wonder if they reuse those?!? Good link, thanks!

      Reply
  • David Scrimshaw April 15, 2014, 9:25 AM

    Another factor that you haven’t mentioned is that the SIN has to pass a checksum algorithm that I believe makes 9 out of 10 possible numbers invalid.

    I don’t think you’re fear mongering.

    Reply

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