Monday, 18 October 2010

Theft made easy

Did you know that if you want to get something for nothing you can do so quite easily? This is how:

You choose an internet retailer whom you know or suspect to be incompetent, negligent or just careless, and place an order with them for whatever you want, giving a name and address you have got from the telephone directory (or anywhere), an age, which can be your grandmother's if you like, and another address for them to send the goods to. They may well do so, though afterwards you might go to prison.

I am fairly certain that I would have little use for a Lipsy Built Up Shoulder Grecian Coral 8, even if I knew what it was, so when I received a statement from a company called Additions, of which I had never heard, telling me that they had supplied one to me, that I owed them £63.95 for it, and that late payments might incur a default charge, I guessed almost immediately that something was not right.

So I dialed the firm's premium rate number and after twenty minutes ("...Press 4 if you really really want to speak to someone..."), I spoke to someone. My news came as no surprise to them and the woman said calmly and without apologies that yes, it was clearly ID theft and they would cancel the account.

Then I had a letter from their Fraud Unit's "FPT Manager", saying: ..."after a thorough investigation, I can confirm that your name and/or address have been used fraudently by parties unknown....... I will be keeping a record of the account(s) for our own purposes to help us combat fraud. I look forward to hearing from you, Yours sincerely".

 So I wrote back to them as follows:
Thank you for your letter. This raises more questions than it answers.
It could hardly have taken a “thorough investigation” to establish that fraud had taken place; that was obvious from the information I gave you. What further investigations have you undertaken? You appear to be saying that you opened an account for someone who provided nothing more than (my) name and address, a false date of birth, and an accommodation address for delivery of the goods. Can this be true? Did you take no action at all to verify the details, for example by checking with the electoral register that someone with my name lives at the delivery address, or by other means? If not, why not?
If this is your normal policy then it means that anyone can look up a name and address in the phone book and order goods from you with no further verification of his identity, but perhaps there is something I do not know, in which case please enlighten me.
Anyway, I assume you have reported the matter to the police. If you have not, I will do so myself, so please provide me with the address of your local police station (or if you prefer I can do so through my local police) .

There was no reply, so I wrote again, twice, and still had no reply. Finally, after three weeks had gone by, I telephoned their Fraud Unit. Asking by name for the "FPT Manager", I was told that the person who had signed the letter was in fact their "Operations Manager" but never wrote letters or spoke on the phone (clearly she is a PR fiction and does not exist). I resisted the temptation to ask whether their Operations Manager's responsibilities covered only the waste bins and toilets, and instead asked why they had not replied to my letters. In reply I got an obvious lie: "Ah well, we tried to phone you but couldn't get through". In three weeks? And why didn't they leave a message?: "Not allowed to:  Data Protection Act".

By now I was getting a little restive, so I dropped this and asked my original question: whether it was true that they had sent off the goods without asking the thief for any proof of identity. She said yes, and that this was normal practice among internet retailers. I found this difficult to believe and said in quiet, measured tones: "Bollocks".

She took umbrage at this mild expletive and we parted with expressions of mutual distaste.

But I had asked Chelmsford Police about this and a week later, I had a phone call from a charming and able woman police officer. She told me that only the victim's local police could do anything about such an incident and since in this case it was not me who had lost any money then only the retailer could report it. And further, that this was indeed a very common occurrence: many retailers simply don't bother to make checks but reckon that if it's not a big item then it's better to suffer a small loss than get involved with an investigation.

So what the Applications woman who had last spoken to me told me was quite right and I perhaps I should apologise to her.  I don't feel inclined to do so because my comment was justified; it is appalling that this is allowed to happen; besides, I had spent money on the first phone call and wasted a lot of time writing letters.

Anyway, I didn't care for her tone.

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