Friday, March 18, 2016

An Identity Theft Story (Part 2)

Having now determined that I had been the victim of equipment gaming, it was time to initiate the steps to rectify the situation. First, I completed a form on the Federal Trade Commission website for victims of identity theft. In addition to the form, the site provides letter templates that you can send to businesses where the fraud was perpetrated.

Here are some things that I have learned since the fraud occurred:

AT&T is Terrible

I faxed their subpoena compliance department 17 pages of documents 2 days after receiving a collections letter on the fraudulent account. Three phone calls and 4 business days later I was given a “File Code” and I specifically asked if all of the required documents were received, complete, and readable. I was told yes. Four days after that I called to check on progress and Amber told me that my case was closed out because the faxed copy of my driver’s license was not readable (and if there is one thing AT&T is obviously a stickler for it is a positive I.D.) I refaxed it, and was told my case was reopened and being escalated (to a dumpster, most likely).

Two days after having my case escalated, I called back and spoke to Amber again who informed me that she had received an e-mail from her superior indicating that I had to have a subpoena. I reiterated that this was not the case with a Fair Credit Reporting Act 609(e) request. She then responded that all the documents I sought had been “destroyed.” I asked if it was common policy to send someone a collections letter for $5,000 and then immediately delete any evidence that said person owed the money in the first place. I was placed on a brief hold while I assume they finished shredding everything. It was like Enron over there.

Next on the line was supervisor Diana. informed me that the case would need to be escalated yet again (to the executive dumpster) and that she would get back with me when she had some information. Over the next 15 days, I placed several phone calls and spoke to 5 different individuals attempting to ascertain the status of what was deemed (depending on whom I spoke to) either a common monotonous task that took a long time due to the volume they received or the most outrageous documents request they had ever heard of which also took a long time due to its unprecedented nature.

Eventually, over 1 month and 16 phone calls later, I received the packet from Palm Beach, Florida. The suspect presented no identification, gave a pre-paid burner phone from a different state as his home number, and misspelled my first name. None of this apparently hindered his ability to walk out of the store with five gold iPhone 6s Plus 128 GB models charged to me. He even financed the activation fee on my credit.

Sprint is Semi-terrible

I faxed Sprint the same 17-page request on the same day that I faxed it to AT&T. I called three times over the next few days and was informed that they had issued a letter to tell me that the faxed copy of my driver’s license was unreadable. I incredulously asked why they would generate a letter, place it in an envelope, and then pay to mail to me for the purpose of informing me that page 14 of the fax needed to be resent. My cell phone number was on the form. Chris was apologetic and informed me that there was one woman who handled these requests and that she worked different hours.

Seven days later, I called back and spoke to supervisor Joann who informed me that the information I had requested would not be provided because it was “proprietary to Sprint.” She indicated that I would need a subpoena. I again explained the delicate intricacies of the FCRA 609(e) and that no subpoena was required. All she could tell me was that someone posing as me walked into the store, took possession of 2 gold iPhone 6s Plus 128 GB handsets, and left. According to Joann, the crack team at Sprint’s Fraud Department sensed something was amiss and cancelled the account the very same day.

Four days after that I received a letter from Sprint indicating that I had attempted to open a new account with them on the very same day I spoke to supervisor Joann. I called and spoke to Maria who told me that the letter had been auto-generated when the fraudulent account was closed. She then went on to directly contradict supervisor Joann by telling me that the individual had setup the account over the phone, walked in the store to pick up the phones, and the account had remained open until the day I spoke with Joann. As with AT&T, no photo identification was requested or presented to open the account or pick up the phones. I have had a tougher time purchasing Sudafed than it took this guy to get $11,000 worth of product.

T-Mobile was the easiest to deal with as I simply mailed them a copy of the request and they sent back what I requested. In this instance, the suspect spelled my name correctly but was one number off on my social security number. It would appear that all of the carriers have an intrinsic hint system in place for suspicious customers.

Sir, what was your social security number?


You’re getting warmer…….


So close!

Is the last number a 9?

Well done sir! Next we just need your first name.


Is it spelled like Victoria……..


This time my unauthorized surrogate walked away with 4 more gold iPhone 6s Plus 128 GB models. Unlike their competitors, they did record a driver’s license number.

You are probably asking yourself why I had to spend so much time to piece this puzzle together when I had already filled out a police report. Isn’t this their job? Well yes, but as a taxpaying citizen I also realized that someone fencing some gold iPhones in another state was not exactly a top priority. Plus, the fact that the report was filed in a different state than the crime was committed adds another layer of jurisdictional complexity. Let’s just say that there is a reason that cellular equipment gaming has never been picked up as a Law & Order storyline. They just haven’t made any good revenge action movies where the motivating factor is a slightly tarnished credit score. I have come up with some titles in case it catches on:

I can't believe they just handed me this......

  • Death Wish VI: Beacon Score Beat-Down
  • Dirty Harry/Clean Credit
  • L for Larceny (Remember, remember the apathetic cellular vendor..)
  • Hard to Kill/Easy to Impersonate
  • The Punisher III: Collection Notice

That being said, there are reasons that equipment gaming is such a lucrative and low-risk criminal enterprise:

1.      The victim is usually only interested in ensuring that they are not held responsible for the charges and the providers rarely fight this.
2.      The providers rarely fight this because they are not out any services and the equipment cost is recouped from the retail outlet or claimed under a corporate fraud insurance policy.
3.      Because the fraudulent charges never really affect the company’s bottom line, they have no real incentive to implement measures (such as photo ID verification) to prevent reoccurrence.

What you have is, essentially, a victimless crime with neither the defrauded company nor victimized individual left with an incentive to press for discovery and prosecution of the criminal. The identity is dropped before their mark gets the first bill and by that time the cell phones are probably overseas anyway.

The lesson here is that you can, through perseverance and thinly-veiled allusions to legal counsel, get the information due to you through the FCRA. Also, it would appear that crime not only pays, but in this case comes with only a negligible risk of punishment.

1 comment:

  1. "Because the fraudulent charges never really affect the company’s bottom line, they have no real incentive to implement measures (such as photo ID verification) to prevent reoccurrence."

    This is what I was thinking the entire time I was reading this (and becoming increasingly frustrated). They don't give a damn because why should they? They don't suffer any negative repercussions from being defrauded. Seems weird to me when I think about it, like that's not how it should be. They should want to actively prevent fraud. But what do I know, I'm just some guy.


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