An FTC settlement with Vivint involved identity theft issues, with salespeople pulling up names from the white pages to qualify prospects with bad credit for financing
Even if you are a vigilant consumer safeguarding your credit, it seems you could still be at risk from identity theft fallouts. A recent Federal Trade Commission settlement with Vivint, a home security company, put the spotlight on this danger.
“Vivint’s sales staff stole people’s personal information to approve others for loans,” said Daniel Kaufman, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “For misusing consumer credit reports and other sensitive data, and harming people’s credit, this company will pay $20 million.” This is the largest monetary judgment in a Fair Credit Reporting Act-related case pursued by the FTC, the agency said.
The practice of “white paging”
The FTC alleged that Vivint’s sales representatives engaged in a practice called “white paging” in which they used the telephone White Pages to find somebody with the same name, or similar name, as the person they were looking to qualify. They would then use that person’s good credit history to approve a potentially unqualified consumer.
They might even ask the potential customer to provide the name of a relative who had a better credit history than they did and add that person’s name as a co-signer to the account without getting the latter’s permission. The representative would then use the “co-signer’s” good credit standing to qualify the prospect.
It seems the misconduct by the salespeople, who were paid on a commission basis, occurred during the period 2016 through 2019, with Vivint’s leadership turning a blind eye to such practices as the company prepared to go public (which it did in 2020). Under the FTC settlement, Vivint agreed to pay a $15 million civil penalty and $5 million in compensation to victims of this scheme.
See related: What is a bad credit score?
File an identity theft affidavit with the FTC
Essentially, the innocent victims of Vivint’s deceptive sales scheme are dealing with identity theft. If you are a victim of identity theft you should file an identity theft affidavit with the FTC. You could even file a police report with a local law enforcement agency.
You should then write a letter (via certified mail and requesting a return receipt) to the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and send copies of the completed affidavit along with it. The credit bureaus will then have to look into the issue and take care of any credit reporting issues that arose as a result of the identity theft.
Put in a fraud alert with the credit bureaus
You should put in an extended fraud alert with the credit bureaus so that lenders looking to open an account in your name will have to verify that it is indeed you initiating the account, rather than somebody else assuming your identity. If you put in a fraud alert with one of the bureaus, it will have to notify the others.
An extended fraud alert, which you are allowed to put in because your identity has actually been stolen, will extend seven years (rather than the one-year period that a regular fraud alert lasts). It will also entitle you to get two free copies of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus over a 12-month period (which you should carefully review).
Check into your state law, too. For instance, California allows identity theft victims who have filed a police report to receive as many as 12 free credit reports, essentially one each month, for a 12-month period after you file the report.
A credit freeze could help
You could also consider putting in a free credit freeze, or security freeze, on your credit reports with the three credit bureaus, which means that new accounts cannot be opened in your name and new potential creditors cannot access your credit report without your lifting the freeze. You will have to put in a security alert with each of the three credit bureaus. If you anticipate that a prospective employer or landlord will be screening you, you could give them permission to access your credit report.
Debt collectors could be calling
Considering that the customers that the Vivint salespeople fraudulently qualified did not have good credit to begin with, they were at high risk of defaulting on their loans. When this happened, Vivint actually referred the victims whose credit reports were misused to debt buyers. The victims could then be contacted by debt collectors. In fact, that’s how many of the Vivint victims got wind of the identity theft and contacted the FTC.
If you are contacted by a debt collector and believe that an issue of identity theft is involved, tell the debt collector that and dispute the debt with them. You should also follow up with a letter, including your statement disputing the debt and the FTC identity theft affidavit.
See related: What happens if you ignore debt collectors?
You could be an unwitting victim of identity theft even when you have been otherwise vigilant. You should then take steps to protect your credit. Fortunately, you will be protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act from any unauthorized charges arising as a result of identity theft. You may also be eligible to be compensated by the FTC settlement if you have been a victim of the Vivint identity theft scheme.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your credit card-related questions.