Name and birth date all that was needed for woman's identity to be stolen
It only took a missing $20 for Lily Webb to find out she had been betrayed.
Last week, Stratford woman Lily Webb received a call from debt collection agency Dun and Bradstreet about an unpaid power bill from Meridian Energy. The trouble was Webb had never set up the account.
That had been done by a former friend who had stolen Webb's identity and used it to pass the credit check. Incredibly, all she had needed was Webb's name and date of birth.
"I don't think she did it out of malice. I think it was out of sheer need," Webb said. "I hope it was out of sheer need and not out of malice, I don't even know how to put it into words."
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The identify theft was only unmasked because the friend had failed to pay off the final $20 of the $300 power bill that had been sent to the debt collectors. The tiny sum has nonetheless caused Webb a huge amount of trouble.
"Since Tuesday last week I have spent most days on the phone trying to prove who I am, trying to find out if there is anything else, trying to get the information for the police," she said.
"Trying to prove who you are and that you're not the person at fault is very, very hard."
Webb had also checked her credit rating and was shocked by what she saw.
"Right now when I log in, that website tells me that my credit score is zero at the moment, where as we have tried our damnedest to pay every bill on time every time," she said.
Webb said while she did feel angry towards the woman, she also felt pity for her.
A spokesperson for Meridian Energy confirmed they had only required a name and date of birth to perform a credit check in the past, but its rules for customer identification were updated in January 2016.
"We still require a full legal name, date of birth and address to perform a credit check, however if the information is fraudulent or inaccurate and not known at the Credit Bureaus then their application will be flagged and we will require further identification to proceed with the sign up, including birth certificate, license or passport," they said.
Maggie Edwards, a consumer advisor for Consumer NZ, said the number of people affected by identity fraud was small but the impact on that handful of people was huge.
However, she said there needed to be a balance between ensuring there were the proper checks in place and limiting the number of hoops and checks someone needed to go through, as that could potentially put them off signing up.
Webb said she had given Meridian her drivers licence, birth certificate, marriage certificate and her address since 2013, which was enough for them to put the account on hold while it was investigated.
A police spokesman confirmed a complaint had been laid and said the investigation was ongoing.
Edwards said it was important for people to keep track of their personal credit and suggested checking it once a year, as that could highlight potential problems.
When a organisation such as a power company did a credit check, it would be listed in the report and Edwards said that was one way to keep an eye out for potential problems or identity thefts.
The spokesperson from Meridian Energy said they took fraud very seriously and worked with the customer to resolve the matter.
"If the customer hasn’t already contacted Police we will advise them to do so and we’ll investigate the matter ourselves. If there is a credit issue, we’ll also put any debt collection on hold until the matter is resolved," they said.
"An account is not referred to a collection agency until it has passed through our rigorous credit cycle process, this involves numerous contacts/attempted contacts with the customer spread across a number of weeks."