When you hear warnings about identity theft, utility fraud doesn't usually come to mind. So imagine the surprise one of our NBC10 Boston viewers had when she couldn’t get a loan because someone had opened an Eversource energy account in her name.
“It was creepy, like someone came into my home, got into my files, and walked away with my social security number,” said Karen Roman, of Falmouth, Massachusetts, who recently discovered she was the victim of identity theft and utility fraud. “I was informed by my bank in early January.”
Roman had applied for a home equity loan through her bank, but when they pulled her credit report, they found an outstanding Eversource bill for $3,400. An account had been opened with Roman’s social security number, tied to a residence in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood.
“The fraud account was opened in 2012, closed in 2017, and pasted onto my credit in the fall of 2018, so the account was open five years without me even knowing it,” explained Roman.
She filed a police report and says she submitted paperwork to Eversource in January to clear up the situation. Roman called NBC10 Boston during a “Talk to Ten” event last month to share her story.
Eversource told NBC10 Boston they don’t experience many issues related to identity theft, but when they do, they immediately take action. They said they received Roman’s paperwork last week, and determined she is not responsible for the unpaid bill and alerted the credit bureaus.
Eversource spokesperson Reid Lamberty told NBC10 Boston, “Although we are happy that the processes we have in place quickly resolved this issue for Ms. Roman, we certainly do empathize with the fact that her identity was stolen and used to fraudulently open up an account. The manner in which people sign up for services with us is consistent with many consumer-related industries and is in accordance with the rules set forth by the Department of Public Utilities.”
“I think because I asked for your help, it’s being speeded up, and they are going to take care of it as quickly as they can. However, I still felt that we should talk about this, because it can happen to anybody,” said Roman.
Identity theft expert and Bentley College professor Steve Weisman says one reason this type of fraud happens is that criminals don’t need much information to open an account.
“Name, address, social security number — that’s about it,” said Weisman. “Very easy to do and very easy to get away with for months.”
And if you’re a victim like Roman, you might not find out about it for year.
“Utilities in general don’t report your regular payment,” said Weisman. “It’s not something that will help your score. They don’t report balances until it goes to collections. Up until then, it won’t turn up on your credit report.”
So how do you protect yourself? Put a freeze on your credit. It should stop someone from being able to open an account in your name. And check your credit reports frequently.