Monday, September 5, 2011

The ongoing saga of (almost) identity theft

Earlier this year, someone stole my identity, or at least my social security number, address and name. And this person and tried to open some lines of credit in my name. Gratefully, these lines of credit were not opened (phew) but the credit inquiries were posted to my credit report. Since there was a breach of personal information from an ex-employer, that ex-employer had paid for everyone affected to have 3 years of a credit monitoring service. It was this service that alerted me to the problem.

I then received three formally-written letters from three different companies stating that the credit line I requested was not opened without further information from me. It was Best Buy/HSBC, Zales/Citibank, and T-Mobile. I immediately called the phone number provided on each of these letters and stated it wasn't me but someone else and what can I do to make sure the accounts are not opened AND remove (what I later learned to call it) fraudulent credit inquiry from my credit report.

Well, from each of them I was told sincerely they were very sorry and they wrote whatever notes they needed to make sure the accounts were not going to be opened and alerted their respective credit bureaus to put an initial fraud alert on my account. Citibank even helped me with the process of putting an full fraud alert on my account that would last 10 years and then I put my phone number on the alert on my credit report so that the credit bureaus would have to call me before opening any line of credit -- even if it was me.

Great, I figured this is straight forward and I don't have to worry.

A few months later, I noticed that the credit inquiries were still on my report. So I called each of the companies again, they each told me that they were very sorry and I needed to send a letter to them (as it was only in writing that I could make such a request) to have them remove the fraudulent inquiry from my credit report. They each gave me the address to send it to, told me what to write, and that should be that.

It is now nine months after the initial fraudulent activity was posted to my credit report and this is still not resolved.

In the meantime, I had called Equifax and TransUnion. Both told me that I could not have the inquiries removed but the companies that had posted them must do it. I explained that I'd called and written to each of the three companies and they each assured me they'd done their job to alert Equifax and/or TransUnion about it. Both credit bureaus apologized but they wouldn't be able to help me. Equifax's rep from a call center in India even tried to upsell me on putting a freeze on my account for a monthly fee.


Having worked in Customer Service on the phone for three years and then for about a year online, I can tell you I've had my share of being yelled at. I can also tell you I've many times gone WAY above and beyond for a customer that was in my position: unhappy, frustrated and having met only dead ends after being given inaccurate information by other reps.

Only the reps at T-Mobile were helpful and they sent me a letter stating they DID alert the credit bureau and it can take the bureau a few months to remove the inquiry. I'm still waiting, but at least I know they did what they said.

I'm still receiving written letters from Zales and Best Buy's line of credit telling me that either:
A. There is no open line of credit account with my name on it from them (duh)
B. There is no way to remove a credit inquiry from a credit report (ignoring the fact that it was fraudulent, in which case there is a way to remove the inquiry)
C. Thank you, we're sorry, can you send us more information.

I've now written SIX letters to each of those companies and in their response letters neither has acknowledged the actual problem I've clearly and simply stated in each letter. I even made sure to keep the letters formal, factual and only half a page with 12 point type in case the person reading it has a short attention span.

Honestly, if my identity had been breached and accounts had been open it would have been an absolute nightmare compared to this, given the lack of effective and responsible responses I've gotten from these companies. Canned customer service letters are not effective nor responsible nor polite when dealing with something of this nature. ESPECIALLY if the canned reply is not addressing the problem.

It's like a game where the real rules are hidden and only the tenacious win. I'm pretty tenacious but even my resolve is waning.

I'll post an update in the future if it is resolved. But this is an example of very poor customer service, service design and a faulted bureaucratic process, indeed.

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