I was the victim of ID theft and fraud, and this is what I had to do to undo it

A thief can easily steal your identity. Photo by CafeCredit

By  Amanda Fung, YAHOO! Finance

I am a victim of identity theft and fraud. I’m not exactly sure how it happened. But the whole experience was a real hassle.

In February, I received a letter from ERC, a debt collector claiming that I owed Comcast Cable Communications LLC $1,759.05 because I was delinquent. I was puzzled because I have never been a Comcast customer, and Comcast isn’t even available to me. (New York City has cable TV franchise contracts with Yahoo parent company Verizon, Spectrum and Altice for such services. RCN also offers service in my area through a different contract.)

A few weeks after that notice, my mom told me that a man from ERC called her looking for me. My mom did not share my number with him, but instead gave me the message. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that someone probably stole my identity. Still, I was annoyed.

I called Comcast directly to complain. A rep claimed the company would look into the matter and get back to me. But they never did.

I’ve never been to Michigan

Instead, earlier this month I noticed a missed call from a number linked to ERC. So, I called ERC to dispute the debt collection. The ERC rep confirmed my name and address and asked me for the last four digits of my Social Security number. When I asked if they would instead provide me the digits they had on file, the rep agreed and to my surprise the rep had the exact last four digits of my SSN. I confirmed to the rep that was my number, but underscored that I never applied or received services from Comcast.

The rep told me someone in Warren, Michigan, received Comcast service in my name. For the record, I’ve never been to Michigan.

The rep immediately flagged this as ID theft. I was forwarded to Comcast’s fraud department, where a Comcast rep directed me to www.xfinity.com/fraudclaimform and outlined steps I needed to take to prove that I’ve been a victim of ID theft. It’s still unclear to me why the Comcast rep I initially spoke with didn’t do this.

I later learned that someone opened a Comcast Triple Play account in November 2016 using my information and the account was closed in July 2017 for nonpayment and then moved to collections.

Step 1: Fill out ID theft claim packet and file a police report

Filling out the six-page packet was easy enough. It took me about 15 minutes. It’s what followed that took some time.

Go to your local police precinct. Yes, you have to step inside a police precinct to report that your identity was stolen. Lucky for me, my local precinct is just a few blocks away from my home.

According to the admin I worked with, it has been “a while” since she has had to file an ID theft report. The entire process, by the way, is done on paper. And, ironically, at no time was I asked to show a form of identification to prove that I was Amanda Fung.

One interesting tidbit: The New York Police Department uses the time and date you opened and read the debt collector notice as the date of the theft.

The entire visit to the precinct took about one hour, but it could have taken longer if the admin at the precinct made me wait for her to redo the report. The detective dinged her for not noting the fact that my SSN was likely stolen and told her to rewrite the report. Lucky for me, all I needed was a copy of the incident information slip and for the admin to fill out and sign the specified sections of the packet, which she successfully did.

Step 2: Snail mail or fax the packet plus copies of your ID and utility bills

As proof of residency during the time of the incident I dug up a few 2017 Con Ed bills with my address on it. The Comcast rep said scanning and emailing the documents is not secure. So, I faxed my packet over. Within about five hours, I got a call from a Comcast rep confirming receipt. He also notified me that an investigation has been started and that I would hear back within 30 days.

Kudos to the cable company for a speedy confirmation. Comcast also contacted the collection agency to put a pause on notices.

But I wasn’t done yet. Here’s still a few more things I had to do.

Step 3: Call a credit reporting agency and activate a fraud alert

Call Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. The one company you call is required to contact the other two. I ruled out Equifax because their recent data breach was something I wanted to keep my distance from. I chose TransUnion.

The entire process was automated over the phone. I tried to get a real person on the line by tapping 0 but failed. (My colleague and Yahoo Finance personal finance guru Ethan Wolff-Mann told me later that I should have cursed during the automated call — a tactic used to get a real person to jump on the line.)

All three agencies mailed me a confirmation of the fraud alert within a week of my request. One thing to note: The fraud alert lasts for 90 days, but you can call for another 90-day extension from 60 to 100 days from your previous request.

Step 4: Request a free credit report

I tried to request one online via www.annualcreditreport.com, but after filling out all the information, I got this prompt: We are unable to confirm your identity.

So, I had to call 1-877-322-8228 to make the request. After suffering through yet another automated phone call, I was told my report would be processed and mailed within 15 days. I received the free report via snail mail six days after submitting my request over the phone. Luckily, everything on the report was kosher! (I guess the person who stole my information didn’t get his or her hands on any of my credit card account numbers.)

Step 5: Report to the FTC viawww.identitytheft.gov

I had finally completed most of the suggested tasks, which included contacting Comcast and a credit reporting agency. But I decided not to contact the National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange to request my NCTUE Data Report, a comprehensive history of utility accounts under my name. I was just too tired of automated prompts and sharing personal information (including my SSN) to yet another entity.

The resolution

On May 22, Comcast acknowledged that the account opened in my name was indeed fraudulent and it would cease collection activity on the account immediately and notify credit agencies to have any negative reporting linked to the account removed from my credit report.

When I reached out to Comcast to tell the company I was writing about my experience, a spokesman said the company is sorry that I was a victim of ID theft and that it is committed to protecting consumers from these types of scams. It has set up a site that allows customers to report fraud and another site to outline steps someone can take in the event that your identity is stolen (the site I was directed to).

Last year, 16.7 million U.S. consumers were victims of ID theft, up 8% from 2016, according to Javelin Research & Strategy, amounting to $16.8 billion in losses to fraud.

The sad news is I was one of the 15.4 million victims in 2016. The good news is throughout the entire process I was never advised to change my SSN. I don’t even want to know what I have to do to change my SSN.

Amanda Fung is an editor at Yahoo Finance.

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