Last month, I got a $442.13 bill from Comcast for Xfinity cable and television service. There was just one problem: I didn't order it. It was a case of identity theft.
So how can a thief open a Comcast account using another person's name and property address -- a vacant house no less -- to get service connected somewhere else?
Well, it helps to be an employee of the company with access to people's social security information and other personal details.
After some digging, I've learned that a Comcast employee used my Social Security number and the address of an Oakland property I own to hook up Xfinity service elsewhere. I'd lived at the house at one time and had Comcast there in the past. For the last year, though, the house has been a rental. It was in between tenants when the fraudulent account was opened on June 10.
I was more than 3,000 miles away on the East Coast, wrapping up a 10-month leave of absence. On June 14, the day I returned to Oakland, I discovered a letter from Comcast in the mailbox at the house. I assumed it was spam and tossed it onto a heap with the rest of the junk mail.
On Sunday, I rediscovered the letter and opened it. I was stunned to find a bill. There were two other Comcast letters that had been sent to the property address that I spotted in what I thought was the junk pile. One was addressed to a man I've never heard of declining his request for service due to bad credit. Another addressed to me said that the security of my account was "a top priority at Comcast" and included a PIN number.
I called Comcast customer service to report the theft. A representative said Comcast could not close the account until I completed a fraud application. She transferred me to a second woman who said that individuals connected to the account had gone into a Comcast store in Oakland to pick up equipment. She gave me the ID of the rep who had handled the transaction and suggested I might go to the store to ask if he remembered anything. She said there was a lot of activity connected to my Social Security number and that it was an obvious case of fraud. It smelled like an inside job to me, and I told her so.
The rep told me to call a Comcast security number. The representative there emailed me a fraud packet that I had to assemble: 1) a signed and notarized affidavit; 2) a copy of a valid government issued photo identification card; and 3) proof of residency during the time of the disputed service.
The problem was I didn't have a lease or utility bill to prove I hadn't been living at the house to receive the services. I'd been in transition from the East Coast back to Oakland.
So, I asked Advent Properties, the Oakland property management company that I use, to write a letter stating that the house had been vacant in June. I attached a copy of my airline ticket.
The process was time-consuming.
I initiated a 90-day fraud alert with all of the credit reporting agencies.
By law, you are entitled to one free credit report every year. I wasn't able to access my free report online. Yet Equifax happily sold me my reports plus credit scores over the phone -- which I could get online -- for a $19.99 per-month fee.
Comcast had done an inquiry on my credit in June. Fortunately, nothing else seems amiss.
In preparation for this column, I contacted Comcast corporate offices to find out how something like this could have happened. I emailed them my paperwork.
Comcast spokesman Bryan Byrd said a Comcast employee had opened the fraudulent account and that "he has been dealt with."
Comcast has closed the account, erased my bill and removed the query from my credit report. From now on, anyone living at the house who wants Comcast service will have to go into an Xfinity location in person to show photo ID and a lease agreement.
It makes you wonder how protected one's personal data is.
How many others did this rogue employee target?
Comcast says it is continuing the investigation. Byrd said the fraud did not appear widespread. He would not comment on how often Comcast employees have been caught engaging in fraud in the past.
"Apologies," Byrd said. "The good news is we dealt with it, and your account was restored."
Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Tuesday and Sunday. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her at Twitter.com/tammerlin.