By Carrie Kerskie, Director of the Identity Fraud Institute at Hodges University
There is a new trend emerging in the world of identity theft. The trend involves phone accounts, landline or mobile. It could involve a new account or your current account. Either way, it is something you must be aware of so you can identify the warning signs.
Taking over your current phone account is easier than you think.
All a thief has to do is to call your phone carrier and provide them with your name, address, date of birth and social security number (SSN). Once accessed, the thief can make changes such as setting up online access, changing your email address of record, setting up call forwarding, changing your phone (mobile) or moving your account to another carrier. If the thief has set up online access, he can make any of these changes to your account via the internet.
Why would someone want to take over your phone number? Think about it for a minute. When your bank suspects fraudulent activity in your account, the bank will call you to verify the transactions. If someone wanted to use your accounts for fraud, they would also need access to your phone number so the transactions would be authorized. If a thief is applying for a new loan or a new credit card using your identity, he/she knows there is a chance the creditor will call your phone number if fraud is suspected. Another reason for taking over your phone number is to bypass a credit report fraud alert. Victims of identity theft often request a free 90-day fraud alert be placed on their credit reports. Victims have the option of adding their phone number to the alert. If fraud is suspected, the creditor will call the phone number listed. If your phone number has been forwarded, the identity thief will receive the call, not you.
To open a new phone account, mobile or landline, you need a name, address, date of birth and SSN. The company will typically run a credit report prior to opening the account or offer a payment plan for the mobile device. If someone has bad credit and is unable to get an account or device, he/she could simply use your information to get one. Perhaps the thief does not want to have to pay for the new phone account. Instead, he will use your information to get one. Another reason for someone to use your information to set up a new phone account would be to set you up for additional identity theft. Once an account has been established, the phone number is reported to the credit bureau or bureaus. This fraudulent telephone number becomes part of your personal information on your credit report or reports, which is one more piece of information from your credit report that a potential creditor will use to verify your identity.
This fraudulent telephone number becomes part of your personal information on your credit report or reports.
Here are a few warning signs that you may be a victim of phone identity theft:
- You stop receiving incoming calls
- You no longer have service on your mobile device
- You receive mail thanking you for opening your new phone account
- You see a new credit inquiry on your credit report from a new phone carrier
- You receive a collection letter or call regarding a phone account
If you detect any of these red flags, do not ignore them. If you suspect your current account has been hijacked, call your phone carrier at the phone number on your bill. If you suspect a new phone account has been fraudulently opened in your name, contact the phone carrier, if known, or review your credit reports, if the phone carrier is unknown. Do not disregard as a possible error. Take the time to investigate the information.
The earlier you take action, the easier it will be to recover from the incident.
Here are a few steps you can take to protect your current phone accounts from account takeover.
- If possible, set up the online account offered by your phone company.
- Set up a PIN, passcode or security question for your phone account with your phone carrier. Remember to use answers that are not easily found through an internet search.
- Do not click on links in unexpected emails from your phone company. Either call the phone company at the phone number on your bill or log in to your account at the company’s website.
- Set up a credit freeze (with a PIN) with each credit bureau. This is only recommended if you will not be applying for new credit in the next year or two.
The National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange (NCTUE) is a “national membership of over 70 utility, telecommunications and pay-tv providers.” NCTUE is used by member companies to determine the financial risk of new and current consumer accounts. Their database contains information on more than 342 million consumers. The NCTUE does not maintain information on all consumers. However, if they have information on you, you are entitled, per the requirements of the FCRA, to review your NCTUE consumer file. To request your free NCTUE disclosure report, call (866) 604-6570 or visit http://www.nctue.com/consumers. You also have the option to place a 90-day fraud alert or freeze your NCTUE disclosure report. A security freeze will prevent them from sharing your information with others. For additional information, call 1 (866) 349-5355.
These steps are your best defense again phone account fraud. Please keep in mind that even with these steps, you will still need to monitor your statements, credit reports and watch for red flags. Nothing is 100 percent safe. When was the last time you heard about a crime ring that went legit because a fraud prevention measure put them out of business? Never. They will always look for weaknesses, backdoors and loopholes. They never let down their guard; neither should you.