Tamara Reynolds had just started to prepare for dinner on Christmas Eve when a letter arrived from a debt collector.
It said she owed £2,387 to mobile firm O2 and her details had been sold to debt collectors, who could turn up at her door at any time.
The 26-year-old administrative manager from Croydon, South London, was terrified and furious.
Demands: Tamara Reynolds was told she owed £2,387 after fraudsters took out four O2 mobile contracts including two iPhone 13 phones using her name and address
Terrified at the idea that someone might turn up to take her possessions away. And furious because she didn’t owe a penny to O2 — in fact, she has never even been a customer.
That alarming Christmas Eve letter arrived almost two months after Tamara had alerted O2 to the fact that she’d been a victim of identity fraud.
In November, she discovered that fraudsters had taken out four O2 mobile contracts including two iPhone 13 phones using her name and address.
Tamara made dozens of calls to O2 over the proceeding weeks in order to get the accounts closed, but the bills kept coming.
When she called O2 on Christmas Eve, she recommended telling the debt collectors that the payments were ‘under investigation’.
They ‘should’ then leave their property, O2 promised.
“I was living in fear of someone turning up at my door,” says Tamara. ‘This was ruining my life and O2 didn’t seem to care.’
Tamara also discovered her credit rating has been trashed. On Experian, her score nearly halved from an ‘excellent’ 992 to a ‘very poor’ 546 between October and December.
This would make it near-impossible for her to get a mortgage or borrow money from a mainstream lender. She says: ‘It’s impacted so much of my life.
I was thinking about buying a house, but my financial advisor told me not to because no one will lend to me at the moment, so it could just leave more marks on my credit file.
‘I was also meant to upgrade my phone contract before Christmas, but I wasn’t approved for that.’
After Money Mail intervened, a spokesperson for O2 said it had updated Tamara’s credit file and would stop chasing her for payment.
Security: To open a contract with O2, you need to give a name, address and date of birth, as well as your bank details. You also have to show a form of ID like a driving license or passport
But Experian said that although Tamara would now have a ‘good’ rating, her score won’t bounce back to ‘excellent’ straight away.
If Tamara’s case sounds familiar, that’s because Money Mail revealed in February last year that security flaws were allowing fraudsters to take out O2 contracts in innocent people’s names.
Almost a year later, we can reveal the fraud loophole still hasn’t been closed — with devastating consequences.
To open a contract with O2, you need to give a name, address and date of birth, as well as your bank details. You also have to show a form of ID such as a driving license or passport.
Other mobile phone providers ask for proof of address, too, such as a utility bill.
In Tamara’s case, she discovered the crooks gave the wrong date of birth and bank account details (used for a credit check) but were still allowed to open four accounts in her name.
Jake Moore, global cybersecurity adviser for software company ESET, says: ‘The minimal details needed to open a phone contract can be bought in bulk on the dark web [a hidden part of the internet used by criminals] for as little as £1.’
Those who have their identities stolen often find out only on receiving letters chasing late payments.
Shopkeeper Tracey Galbraith, her husband Chris and their 27-year-old son all received letters demanding payments from O2 last October. None of them had ever been customers of the telecoms giant.
They rang O2 separately and discovered their names and addresses had been used to buy iPhone 13s in August.
Threats: Those who have their identities stolen often find out only on receiving letters chasing late payments
They were assured that the contracts would be closed within 30 days. But last week, the family, from Manchester, got a letter from debt collection agency Lowell, which had been instructed by O2 to recover a debt of £1,744.53 from Chris, 66.
Tracey, 58, started to panic that they might get a knock on the front door at any moment.
When she called O2 to complain, she was told to escalate the complaint and wait for a response — which could take another four weeks.
Tracey says: ‘This has been an extremely distressing start to the year. We’re just so desperate to get it sorted.’
O2 is now investigating why Chris is being chased by debt collectors. Tracey says: ‘The letter was a huge shock, but it became really concerning when we realized O2 couldn’t call off the debt collectors.’ The family has since been offered a paltry £30 in compensation.
David Byrne, from London, says he spent 30 hours on the phone to O2 customer services after delays in fixing his credit score put his job as a chief financial officer at risk. He has to keep a clean record as part of company policy.
The 46-year-old saw his credit rating plummet to a ‘poor’ score because of repeatedly ‘missed’ payments for O2 contracts that he’d never signed up for — again for iPhone handsets.
Despite reporting the fraud at the beginning of August, David says O2 continued to tell credit agencies that he was missing payments until December, and it still has not amended the errors. He says his details were also used to take out Vodafone contracts, but Vodafone fixed the issue within 48 hours.
‘People have been ordering iPhones to be sent to completely different addresses under my name — it’s insane that they’ve managed to get away with it,’ David says.
A spokesperson for Virgin Media O2 says: ‘We take fraud and security incredibly seriously and have prevented multi-million-pounds worth of fraudulent activity this year alone.
‘We’re committed to doing the right thing by victims — investigating cases, closing accounts quickly and always writing off debt when fraudulent activity is uncovered.’
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