British Columbia

LifeLabs helpline not very helpful, customers say

LifeLab clients looking to have their personal information protected in the wake of a massive cyberattack on the company are finding the service frustrating and inadequate.

15 million clients of the company may have had personal information stolen in a massive cyberattack

The data breach of Canadian laboratory testing company LifeLabs highlights the security and privacy challenges that come with the push for a medical system in which e-health plays a significant role. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

LifeLabs clients trying to protect themselves in the wake of a massive data breach say the system set up by the company is frustrating and inadequate. 

Earlier this week, LifeLabs revealed the personal data of up to 15 million Canadians — primarily in B.C. and Ontario — was potentially compromised in a cyberattack.

LifeLabs set up a dedicated phone number for customers to access information and register for identity theft and fraud protection insurance, but many are finding the helpline anything but helpful. 

Telkwa resident Kate Daniels-Howard said she came away with more questions than answers after being connected to a call centre in Alabama.

"I was taken aback," she said. "He didn't have a lot of information. It was very clear they are working from a script."

Daniels-Howard wanted to know if the hacked server was located in Canada or the U.S., but the call centre worker didn't know.

He did provide a 12 digit protection promotion code but didn't have any instructions about what it was for.

Daniels-Howard eventually figured out the code was for setting up fraud protection with TransUnion, but that required her to put all her personal information into an online form. 

"I was a little reticent ... given what had happened," she said. "There's a fine line between what helps people and what is a little more aggravating."

Please press 1...

Twenty-year LifeLabs client Paul Hancock said when he got through to the helpline, it kept dropping his call.

"[The automated answer] said 'if you are a LifeLabs customer worried about the incident' — they never say hacking they say incident — 'press one.' So I'd press one and it would say 'that's an invalid number' and disconnect me," said Hancock. 

"So I called a LifeLabs employee. She wouldn't give me any information. She just said you have to wait to the end of the three options and then push one. So I did, and now I'm talking to a woman in the American South and she has no information."

'Why am I going to trust your website?'

Hancock was also given a code number. When he finally got through on the phone to TransUnion, he was dismayed to be told to go to the company website instead.

"I said look, [TransUnion] was hacked just last year, and you guys wouldn't tell anyone what information was divulged. Why am I going to trust your website?" 

LifeLabs said in a statement it had extended the hours of its call centres to handle inquiries related to cyber insurance requests. 

TransUnion told CBC people should use its website to apply for service but only after getting a code from LifeLabs.