I have been with my phone company for two years now, and in total, I manage eight phone lines on my account. One belongs to me, and the seven other phone lines belong to others in my family. All of the lines were upgrade-eligible before the end of the calendar year, unless I switched our plan. All was well, until I tried to call my dad last week. I was greeted with a message telling me my phone line was not active. Honestly, I didn’t think much of this, and shrugged it off thinking it was something minor, like a failed SIM card. But, just to be safe, I went to my computer and logged into my wireless provider account online, to chat with an online support representative. I told them that I couldn’t make any phone calls, and they informed me that my phone line was removed from that device.
That’s when things started to seem bizarre. But they were able to restore my phone line, and I was asked to restart my phone. I disconnected from chat support, and while I was waiting for my phone to restart, I looked through my homepage. I looked through the page that lists all of my devices, and I noticed that it showed six new phone lines, all of which were connected to 128GB iPhone 6S Plus’s. I immediately knew that my account was accessed by someone else because I’d never authorized any of those lines, or upgrades, even though I’m supposedly the only one able to authorize new activity on my account.
I tried to call my brother to see if he would know anything. He is one of the phone lines on my plan, and I figured it was worth seeing if he’d accessed my account for some reason, or if he could shed light on the situation. I dialed his number, and a voice I didn’t recognize picked up my brother’s phone. They mumbled a few things and then hung up. Everything started to make sense. Six of the phone numbers on my account were transferred to new devices (including mine and my brother’s), which then explained why I wasn’t able to make a call earlier.
I immediately went to one of my phone company’s local branches, and had one of their staff members help me. They put me on the phone with the fraud department. After I explained what had happened, they were able to remove the new devices, and transfer back all the old phone numbers.
The representative on the phone explained to me that she was able to see, on her system, that the fraud happened inside an Apple store in another state and city. She also mentioned that whoever accessed my account set up a specific program on the six phone lines, which would enable them to walk out of the store without paying for the devices. If it would have gone unnoticed, I would have been billed for all the new devices in monthly installments. She also mentioned that she has never seen someone try to access six phones at one time. Usually someone orchestrating a fraud would just open one or two lines. I asked if she knew how they might have accessed my account, and she said that they would do an investigation, which I have yet to hear back about. I was told that the fraud department marked the phones as lost/stolen, thereby disabling future activation. I was relieved that their fraud department was able to get my account back to normal. They were incredibly helpful.
I spent the rest of my night changing every online password I had, regardless of whether or not it was related to my phone bill, because I still had some worry about what information the fraud perpetrator might have of mine. I always thought I was being super careful. I would shred any letters that I received, hide personal items from my social media sites, and lock my social security card, birth certificate, and other documents in a safe at home. Yet, here I am, a victim of identity theft. The next day, I did some research and set up a 90-day fraud alert with TransUnion. Following that day, I made a post on Reddit asking for any advice on taking additional steps, and got some great personal messages from people who work in fraud departments at several different companies.
One person (though I do not have verification of their expertise) explained that often very little information is actually needed to orchestrate a fraud like this, and said that it’s likely the fraudster just had my name, phone number, and last four of my social security number. Usually that is all they need, along with a little social engineering, to get into an account. This person also recommended that I sign up for free credit monitoring, which I have now done. If hard inquires start showing up, it’s been recommended that I freeze my credit, and unfreeze it whenever I need to apply. It can be a hassle, but it’s perhaps the only way to stop inquiries from affecting my credit score unless I choose to find a paid service. I feel better about signing up, and wished I would have done it a lot sooner. I also wish I knew what exactly to do in this situation, and am still looking for any advice I can get on the subject.
Since this harrowing experience, I definitely feel like I am more educated about identity theft, and I have reached out to my family and close friends to educate them about protecting their identity and monitoring their credit too. It is becoming more clear that everyone’s information is out there, and fraudsters are just looking for the next person who might not be paying attention, which, in this case, happened to be me.
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