Now that things have cooled down a bit, I can finally get around to sharing the story of my recent identity theft scare. Settle in, its gonna be a bumpy ride.
After the earlier than expected arrival of a new baby, we were just settling into the new rhythm of having a newborn (and 2 year old) in the house. After getting caught up on a million errands, I decided it was time to process bills. Everything was going along fine, until I zipped open my National Grid utility bill.
Hmm, that’s curious, its double what it was last month. Yeah, it was kinda cold last month, but we’ve got a brand new 95% efficient furnace. Before having a freak out about broken HVAC, I went through the bill again, more closely. Hey, what’s this about $287.36, being transferred from another account?
In my adult life, I’ve only ever had 3 addresses: 2 apartments at Wood Wind Gardens, and the house that we live at currently. We’ve been at the latter for the last 4 and half years; its probably not likely that the account from the last apartment didn’t get closed up. So, I called up National Grid Customer Service and got the scoop.
The customer service agent said, “Oh, that’s just an unpaid bill from your property in Malone, NY.” “Ok, well, I don’t own any property in Malone, NY, and I’ve never lived in that area.” Truth be told, I didn’t even know where Malone was until I punched it up on Google Maps later.
“So, where did this account come from?” The agent reported, “It was started up by someone by phone on 9/26 and they used your Social Security Number.” “Well, it wasn’t me.” “Oh, OK, it must be a case of identity theft. Let me send you a copy of our charge dispute paperwork package. Part of the package requires a police report, you may want to contact them soon.” She then let me know that a hold had been put on the errant charges while the investigation was taking place.
So, I hung up the phone, and proceeded to crap myself. A broken furnace is bad times, identity theft is an entirely different nightmare. Told the Mrs. that if I don’t have a heart attack that day, it’ll pretty much be a miracle. Things would likely be really crummy for a while if it truly was an identity theft case. My mind was reeling with all the worst case scenarios.
After the kids settled down for the evening, I started tracking down copies of my credit reports to see what other damage had been done. After some googling around, I found that the government is kind enough to give you a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit reporting bureaus (once per year.) My plan was to see how far I could get with the free reports before I had to pay for something.
Getting the free report isn’t super complicated, but its very tedious. You start on the government programs web site, and link off to the individual bureaus, one by one, to get their reports. On each of the sites, they ask you random questions based on details in your report to help prove that you’re the person in the report. About an hour later, I had all my reports in hand.
I worked my way through all the listed creditors, and saints be praised, there were no new accounts or other accounts that I didn’t know about. I was eventually able to get to sleep that night.
The next day, I called National Grid back and asked them for the full address of the location where the other account was hooked up. Putting my own junior detective hat on, I used the magic of the internet to check out the location with Google Street View and more details about the property on Zillow. I was also able to find the public tax records for the property and the supposed current owner. Kinda scary how much you find out with a little digging.
I called the Dewitt Police Department and asked about how to file an identity theft report. They said that they only take reports in person, and that I can either call 911 and have an officer dispatched (wouldn’t have guessed you’d call 911 for that, but whatever) or just stop by the station. With a new kid in the house, I said that stopping by the station would probably be the better option.
So, I rolled up at the station and told the lady at the front desk that I wanted to get a police report for identity theft. She said, that there were no officers at the station at the moment and that she’d call someone in. A few minutes later I was regaling the officer with all the gory details. She was impressed that each document that she asked for I had with me and that I had copies for her to keep. She said she’d write up the report, I could pick it up the next day, and that an investigator would be in touch soon if more details were needed.
While I was waiting for the report, I completed the rest of the dispute resolution package. No real rocket science, just confirming that it wasn’t me who authorized the service, and documentation for my current residence. The next day rolled around, and I bundled up all the documentation and the police report and headed to the post office to send National Grid the package certified mail (after copying everything first.)
I let things brew for a few days and got a call from an investigator. They confirmed some of the details in the report and said they’d talk to some folks at National Grid and maybe send a state police cruiser over to the location. I said I was happy that the case was actively being investigated and that I was anxious to hear updates.
A few days later, the investigator called back again to let me know that he talked to National Grid and that they happen to have the phone call where the service was setup on tape. Cool, I guess they actually do tape at least some calls, per the all boilerplate warning in their phone tree. He said that he’d follow up again after a copy of the tape made it from National Grid customer service to his office.
The next day, he called back to tell me that there was a customer service issue. The person who set up the service happened to have a Social Security Number very similar to mine and the customer service agent to set up the account transposed his SSN into mine. I thanked the investigator profusely for all his work, hung up, and did some celebratory cart wheels.
A week or so later, I got a mailing from National Grid telling me that the charge dispute that I had filed had been adjudicated in my favor and that the errant charges had been cleared from my account. Curiously, it didn’t mention any reasoning behind the verdict.
After the initial joy of learning that it really wasn’t identity theft, I started to get really annoyed with National Grid. Beyond the mental anguish, I spent over 30 hours of my time doing investigation, talking to people, and getting the appropriate documents filed.
At first, I really wanted to raise a lawsuit. Everybody has better things to do with their time than talking to police and playing endless games of phone tag. Time is money and I need to get paid. Eventually, my lust for wrath subsided, realizing that I’d just be wasting more time and frustration for probably not much gain.
I settled on something less controversial and requested a simple apology for being put through the wringer and wasting valuable resources of my local police department and the state police department as well. As a taxpayer, I’d much rather have the police doing something productive than working on something like this.
So, I put together a nice, even toned, letter to National Grid customer service, requesting a written apology to me and to the Dewitt Police Department. I didn’t want to make it sound like an out control guilty until proven innocent case, but I thought customers with an otherwise excellent payment history should have the courtesy of an internal account review before sounding the identity theft alarm bell. I sent the letter out a month ago, and have yet to receive anything.
I don’t wanna make it seem like I’m crying and stamping my feet by putting this on my blog, but I’d like it to be known that everyone’s time is valuable, and I’m offended when someone like National Grid can waste my time and energy and not fess up to the root cause being theirs.