Danielle Corcione received a late notice for a Comcast bill—but she wasn’t a Comcast customer. When she realized she was a victim of identity fraud, she took actionable steps to clear her record.
In February 2016, I received a letter from a collection agency about a delinquent outstanding bill of $260 from Comcast. I’ve never bought or subscribed to Comcast services, nor lived at the address the bill provided. I assumed it was junk mail and tossed it into a pile of papers on my dresser.
A month later, I received an alarming phone call from the same collection agency to follow up on the bill. Although I pleaded innocent and informed the collector that I never purchased their services, the phone call ended without anything resolved. I’d have to contact the cable company directly to resolve the issue.
I immediately logged onto my mobile banking apps. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary. I wasn’t missing any money in my bank account, and there weren’t any unfamiliar purchases on my credit card. Thankfully, the person who stole my information to pay the cable company didn’t use it for anything else. Although it appeared my identity hadn’t been stolen beyond this bill, I felt uneasy about someone having access to my personal information and his or her potential to commit similar crimes.
So was I a victim of identity theft or fraud? Experian reports there’s a clear difference between the two crimes, but they are indeed intertwined. Identity theft is when a criminal steals your personal information, including your Social Security number. However, identity fraud is when a criminal uses your personal information to make a purchase or pay for a service. Therefore, identity fraud is often a result of identity theft. In this case, I experienced both. Somehow, someone discovered my name and Social Security number, and used it to pay their cable bill.
Over the next few days, I ended up making dozens of calls to Comcast. Before I took any preventive measures, I wanted to confirm this was a real charge, and that the collection agency wasn’t the one scamming me. Contacting Comcast was a challenge alone—the cable company has a generic number for customers, so the call starts off with an automated prompt each time you’re connected. It didn’t help that I don’t have a Comcast location near me, so sometimes I’d get disconnected whenever prompted to enter my zip code.
Additionally, I didn’t have the option to visit a branch and talk to a real person. My closest branch is located in Kansas City, around three hours away. Because I relied on phone calls to communicate, I felt as if I were talking to a black hole. I ended up playing phone tag, getting disconnected, and calling back, and ultimately talking to more than 10 people.
I finally found a representative who could help me. It took nearly 45 minutes, but the call left me with some actionable steps: I needed to contact my local police department to file a report regarding identity theft, fill out a rather lengthy affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and send copies of both documents off to a Comcast headquarters location in Philadelphia. This person also confirmed the bill was real, and the collection agency that called me a few days prior was associated with Comcast after all.
In the process of gathering this paperwork, I found IdentityTheft.gov, which I wish I knew about before I even started making those (what seemed to be endless) phone calls with Comcast. Provided by the FTC, the site serves as a resource for anyone who recently experienced identity fraud and/or theft. By answering a series of multiple-choice questions, it generates a plan of action for your case, including concrete steps to take. For instance, I was advised to consider adding credit freezes to my credit reports—which I ended up doing for free within minutes, all online. If anyone I knew faced a similar dilemma, I would first direct them to this website.
I requested credit reports by mail from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. After receiving my Experian report, the fraudulent address appeared on it. However, I reported the issue directly to Experian online. The following morning, I received an email explaining how the Philadelphia address was officially removed from my records.
A few weeks later, a Comcast representative called me and told me she needed a few more documents to resolve my case. I was relieved—since after calling Comcast so many times, they called me—and this person wanted to help resolve my case! Upon request, I sent over proof of residency between August and December 2014, in addition to a digital copy of my driver’s license. Soon after, I was informed my case was closed, and the issue had been cleared. I was finally free from a $260 bill for services I never had!
According to Consumer Reports, debt collection and theft-related issues were the most reported complaints to the FTC in 2015. Though this was a relatively minimal case of identity fraud, it was still quite unsettling to know that someone was able to access my personal information and use it to purchase services and products. I hope I never experience this again, but at least I know how to deal with it effectively and efficiently next time.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.