ID fraud week gets personal

Think your identity is safe? Well, as one industry insider recently discovered – ironically, during National Identity Fraud Prevention Week – it’s not just phishing attacks and software vulnerabilities of which you need to be wary. If your house is physically broken into, it could be more than just your property at stake – and re-securing your assets can be harder than you’d expect, thanks to poor customer service, and the idiosyncracies of current security protocols.

“National Identity Fraud Prevention Week had a cruel twist for me this year: I was burgled as it started.

It would be fair to say I was more stressed about what could be stolen by criminals using my ID than what was actually stolen.

Passports, laptop and mobile phone were amongst the items taken. Also as the burglars helped themselves they had access to lots of personal information such as bank account details.

As soon as we got home to our trashed house and discovered the burglary, both my partner and I were on the telephone to various agencies to cancel various accounts.

The best place to start? Ah, you should call the police, you say. Yes, that’s what we thought too. About 24 hours later they finally turned up.

But the thing that really stood out for me was the way call centres are run. If you ask something out of the ordinary they cannot help. “But I can’t find my account number because the house has been turned over!”

The de-facto ID is the passport, so I immediately called the Identity and Passport agency. Although the number given out is obviously not the agency directly but a call centre. They could not do anything until I had a crime reference number.

So, 24 hours later, when I finally received my crime reference number I filled in two forms on the website to report it stolen. I contacted them the next day and was told that these forms would be posted to me whereupon I should sign them and send them back. That could take time, I thought, so I printed the forms and filled them in and posted them immediately.

Two days later I telephoned the Identity and passport agency and they could not tell me whether they had received my forms. “The office does not speak to people over the phone about this,” said the call centre. All I wanted to know was whether the passports had been successfully cancelled. “You will receive a letter informing you. This could take weeks.” Well that’s reassuring. In actual fact I did receive the letters quite quickly, so well done, but reassurance over the phone would have been better.

As I was speaking to a call centre, which is powerless, I asked for the number for the actual office involved in Peterborough. I was told they do not have a number for them.

That wasn’t the only incident. Just after the burglary I had telephoned my bank to try to ensure that my online bank account couldn’t be used by the people that have my laptop, passport and lots of personal details.

The call centre worker asked for my account number, date of birth and mother’s maiden name; I asked him if that was all he was asking me and he said these are details that only I would know. Well unless someone had my passport and had seen my bank details. My passport has my name, date of birth and mother’s maiden name on it. The burglars could quite easily have my bank details (my cheque books were in the house) and of course they have my laptop.

And my final grip is with a certain telco. Nothing to do with ID theft, but it was poor customer relations all the same. One of the items stolen was a mobile phone. One that allows you to browse the web and check e-mails – you know, like a Blackberry, but not as good. It is an extra £5 a month. Now that the device has been stolen I cannot use the service. Although I am a good customer with a full broadband and phone service the company does not think it would be fair to send me a new device or to cancel the service.

The person on the phone had some suggestions. Buy a new one or get one cheap by adding another user. The latter would mean another £5 per month plus a cut price £29 for the phone. Obviously I was not happy. The company’s response was “we offered you insurance”.

This is a common theme: the bank mentioned ID theft insurance also. They also tried to sell me home insurance, which actually made me laugh out loud.”