By Mary O’KEEFE
CVW was recently contacted by a reader who was a victim of identity theft. The reader wanted to share her story as a cautionary tale of the impact identity theft can have on everyday life.
It should be noted that because this ID theft was so extreme the victims do not want their identities shared. We are not using their real names to protect them.
One day, the cellphones of Jody and her husband Richard suddenly stopped working. At first they thought it was a problem with their cellphone provider.
“I called Spectrum and was told my phones had been ported out from Spectrum,” Jody said.
This was the first time she had heard the term but soon found out what it meant. “Porting out” is when thieves use a person’s information to swap out his/her phone for a new phone with a new provider. This gives a lot of power to the thieves, allowing them to intercept any messages coming into the victim’s/victims’ phone including those from bank and credit card companies that often send codes to identify customers.
In 2018, the Better Business Bureau released a warning concerning phone porting.
“The scariest part is that this type of scam, called porting or port-out scamming, can help scammers get past added security measures on personal and financial accounts and logins.
“To put it another way, think of how many times you have set up an email address, social networking or logged onto your bank account online or had to change your password. How many times did you have to verify your identity by being sent a code via text message? Now what if you weren’t the only one who was reading that message? This new type of scam absolutely could bypass that layer of security and has a huge potential for your identity to be stolen faster than you think,” BBB stated.
For Jody and her husband, the porting information was just the tip of the iceberg.
“I found [thieves] had used my information to open up a contract with T-Mobile,” she said.
What made it worse for the family was that they had to convince both cellphone companies that a third party opened and closed their respective accounts.
“When we tried to get information, they gave us the name of someone we didn’t know and said he had opened the account,” Jody said.
She immediately went to her bank and contacted all of her credit card companies to tell them what had happened and to make certain nothing else had been affected.
“We found that someone had tried to use [a couple of credit cards] to buy gift cards,” she said. “We found a notice from Federal Express that came to my email. People tried to buy things with a [credit card] but were turned down.”
The family received a notice that over $3,000 worth of items were purchased at T-Mobile after the fraudulent account was opened.
She wondered why Spectrum didn’t contact her when the switch was made and was told the company was informed that Jody and her husband were planning to travel outside of the country. This bothered her because the company simply accepted the third party’s statement instead of following up.
Jody and her husband continued to monitor their accounts.
“It’s like a full time job,” she said.
The thieves got into the couple’s email. Jody and her husband went to their Internet provider, spending hours to try and resolve the issue.
“They said it was fixed but the next day [the thieves were] back again,” she said.
She reported the crime to Glendale police who took the information but was not encouraging as to what could be done about the situation or if they would ever catch the person/persons who did this.
The theft continued as the suspects were able to intercept the family’s incoming calls via their landline.
“I found out they tried to use my Costco card. I had closed [that account],” Jody said. “Once I stopped the Costco card [the thieves] called my house every few minutes for a solid hour.”
She was certain it was the thieves who were calling because the few times she was able to see the caller ID, it was her husband’s old phone number that was displayed.
Jody does not know how her identity was stolen. It could be from someone stealing pieces of mail but she saw nothing unusual. She is cautious and diligent.
She does feel that not only has she been victimized by those who stole her identity, but by the companies that were affected. She has had difficulty finding out what was stolen with the fraudulent credit cards.
“They are using my name and my Social Security number yet I can’t find out what they used it for,” she said.
She gets the same answer from everyone: it’s okay, you won’t be charged.
“That’s not enough, I want to know what is being purchased in my name,” she said.
Although she has been told she will not be charged, she recently was contacted by a collection firm concerning T-Mobile items that were purchased but not by her.
“So they are not charging me, yet they send it to collections?” Jody asked.
T-Mobile has been in touch with Jody and are working closely with her to resolve this issue and answer all of her questions.
But her frustration continues. She knows GPD is doing what it can but was told that there are three detectives who deal with identity theft and there are about 3,000 cases a year.
She has changed all of her passcodes, contacted all of her accounts, closed bank accounts and followed up closely with representatives from banks and credit card companies.
“I just hope it has stopped so we can breathe a little easier,” she said.