Stolen Identities Provide Information for Utility Fraud

30 June 2015

One of the most common ways that criminals use information collected in identity theft is for utility fraud. This is when someone uses your identity to open a utility account, such as gas, electric or cable, for their home. According to Yahoo! Finance, “Identity thieves may be living large — watching HBO, running the air conditioning nonstop and taking long showers — all on your dime.” However, the real motivations behind utility fraud are often much more mundane — this is a crime associated not with career criminals with ties to organized crime, but with small-time crooks who don’t have good enough credit to open accounts in their own names.

Victims of utility fraud are often unaware that their identity is being used until the fraudsters get behind on their account payments. For example, a Hamilton, Ontario, woman recently figured out her identity had been used to open an account with Union Gas — more than seven years after the crime had initially been committed.

The woman was kept in the dark about the fraudulent account since it was opened in 2007 because the person who set it up was faithfully paying the bill each month. However, recently, the account stopped being paid off, leading the Hamilton woman to receive Union Gas bills in the mail for an address where she’d never lived. Only then did she realize her name had been used fraudulently.

The Hamilton Police arrested the perpetrator on June 25. According to the police, the person had a previous relationship with the victim that allowed them to gain access to enough personal information to open an account in her name. The police are still unclear on why the account was set up in the first place, saying they don’t know “if it was an issue of bad credit,” according to the CBC.

As Yahoo! Finance details, committing utility fraud is relatively easy because so little personal information is required to set up a utility account. However, correcting the effects of this type of fraud is especially difficult, because it may not show up on a credit report for years while the account goes into collections and the company attempts to locate the person whose information was used. The most common fraudulently opened type of account is cable, followed by electricity and gas.

Clearing up a case like this can be difficult on your own. You’ll need as much documentation as possible that proves that the account was not opened by you. This should include a police report showing that you reported the fraud, a written and signed statement that you didn’t open the account yourself and any additional helpful documentation, like copies of your actual utility bills from the time period that the account was open. Customers usually don’t set up more than one gas or cable account at a time in different locations, so this will make the company more likely to believe you.

Another way to help protect yourself from identity theft is to subscribe to a credit monitoring service that will alert you to certain types of activity in your credit file that could indicate that fraud has occurred.