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How a crook can open a utility account in your name

Those data breaches you read about can give identity thieves all the information needed to establish service with your name on it. It's one more reason to check your credit report.

By Mitch Lipka Jun 21, 2013 12:16PM

User name field on computer screen © William Andrew, PhotographerYou might find out when you check your credit report. Perhaps from the collection notice in the mail. Why is it that your credit score is taking a hit for not paying some utility bills in a place you've never lived with a utility you never used?


An on-again, off-again scam in which identity thieves use your personal information to open utility accounts -- that's usually are revealed after the crook stops paying the bills -- is on again, the identity theft recovery company Identity Theft 911 told MSN Money.


"Part of why it works is that it's so easy," company founder Adam Levin said.


Opening a utility account -- whether for electricity, cable or gas -- is usually a fairly simple, sometimes automated process. All it takes is enough knowledge about the person whose name is put on the account to answer the questions.


Those details are available for any of the tens of millions of Americans whose personal information is snagged each year, whether through corporate data breaches or phishing attacks. Levin said it is fairly common for perpetrators to be family members or friends.


For consumers who religiously check their credit histories, the first tip-off to this crime could be found before much damage is done. You could spot an inquiry from a utility on your credit report. (All consumers can obtain a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies through the official site AnnualCreditReport.com.


Usually, though, "The only time you find out about it is when they don't pay for it," Levin said.


That's what happened to Christy Dunn, a 38-year-old Texas mother of two. She found out her identity was used to open three separate utility accounts about $1,000 in arrears after a debt collector called trying to get her to pay up.


"I was really in shock," she said. "It really got me down for a while."


Dunn said she didn't think she had much reason to check her credit report. After all, her husband is the family breadwinner and they didn't rely on her credit.


Getting the collections to stop and clearing her credit has been going on for months, she said.

"It's amazing all the things I've had to show to prove it wasn't me," Dunn said. It has involved providing copies of her current utility bills, getting the police to take a report and sending fax after fax, certified letter after certified letter. "It just has been really exhausting," she said.


Levin said trying to recover from identity theft can be incredibly taxing.

"The problem with things like utility fraud and identity theft is you're guilty until you're proven innocent," he said.

 

That means, as Dunn did, having a police report in hand, filing a sworn affidavit that you don't owe the money in question and sending bills that you current pay to show that you already had service elsewhere.


"It's just not easy," Levin said of fixing the problem, adding, "And it's impossible to defend against."


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2Comments
Jun 21, 2013 8:55PM
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Levin said trying to recover from identity theft can be incredibly taxing.

"The problem with things like utility fraud and identity theft is you're guilty until you're proven innocent," he said.

Not so.  When a collector calls and you are the wrong person, do not phvck around.  Simply scream obscenities, insult their intelligence (or lack of), cast aspersions on the marital status of their parents and grandparents; in short make their calls very painful.  If they persist and their phone number is on your caller ID, call them back repeatedly over and over again and scream obscenities.  Guaranteed, the collectors will stop calling - they want to deal with sheep, not tigers.
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