Friday, 11 May 2012

Identity Theft

I think I've been the victim of identity theft. Or, rather, I think our flat has.

We live in a flat in south London, the one of six or seven in a converted house from somewhere around the turn of the century before last. Some of us own and the rest rent on short term lets directly from the freeholder. Consequently, over the years people come and go, and it is easy to lose track of faces and names.

Hoards of letters arrive addressed to people who don't live in our block. There is a shared hallway and no individual post boxes. Sometimes there is more post for people who are not here than people who are, which says something about modern life.

Much of it is junk mail from desperate pizza companies and even more desperate estate agents, the latter assuring us breathlessly that they are desperate for vendors in a vibrant market.

By chance I open a letter addressed to the Occupier, expecting yet more grovelling to put our flat into the rental sector, but what I find is notification by British Gas that the resident, Ms Francis (let us say), having incurred £1,800 in unpaid gas bills, a warrant has been obtained to disconnect us on the 17th of June.

Of course the letter doesn't tell me anything useful like details of the Court, so I can't write to the magistrate to explain the mistake. 

I find a letter addressed to Miss Francis at our address and decide to open it. It is a bill from British Gas for £1,800. This is really weird, as I know for a certain fact that no Ms Francis has lived here for 24 years. Now getting used to rifling Ms Francis' mail, I discover a letter from Barclay's in Mumbai relating to a high value account. Well, to me a minimum deposit of £15k is seriously high value.

I call nice Colin from British Gas and spend an hour and a half on the phone. He believes that I am the true resident and the the reason for the confusion must be that Ms Francis moved in next door four years ago and they accidentally closed down our account and billed it to her. He says his priority is to stop us from getting disconnected. Just as I am about to give him my contact phone numbers we are disconnected.

Barclay's website advises me to report suspected fraud using my secure log-in details. Sadly I do not have Ms Francis pin number, so I decide to call the telephone number provided.

I call Barclay's. London, not Mumbai- Doh! I spend 26 minutes listening to voicebots and kak music. Finally a human voice. Nasty Kyle eventually tells tells me to write to Barclays head office in the UK, as he can't do anything about their bank in India- not even make a record of my call . OK, perhaps I shall. I wonder if Barclay's will pay for the phone call and the postage stamp?

I call British Gas, and vaguely helpful Carrine assures me she will e-mail Colin who will call back within 24 hours.

You guessed it. Nobody calls.

I think I'm going to go to Hackney Police Station and report a theft soon. Or will I get in trouble for opening someone else's mail? And anyway, a theft of what?

A theft of the identity of the place where I live, it seems. Or a theft from a bank in one country that isn't the same as the bank with the same name in another country. Or maybe theft of my peace of mind. 

I am starting to become uncertain whether I really am me and have a good look in the mirror just to check. It looks like me all right- now to persuade everyone else to believe it. As I don't drive and my passport has expired, I have a sinking feeling this is not going to be easy.