A Melbourne man was surprised to discover a $700 loan he hadn’t taken out – but when this bill arrived, he knew something was seriously wrong.
A Melbourne man has been living in a nightmare for three years after his identity was stolen.
The fraud resulted in more than $7,000 in debt in his name, his credit rating plummeted and collection agencies “intimidated” him for months.
Seth* moved to Hong Kong in 2018 to start a new life and a great new job.
Little did he know that the damage had already been done in Australia, with scammers getting their hands on crucial details such as his date of birth, home address and driver’s license number.
He suspects that mail has been stolen from his old house and that his identity has been collected on the dark web.
“My pleas have fallen on deaf ears and there is no end in sight,” Seth told news.com.au.
Though he was twice targeted by scammers in 2019, he is still feeling the repercussions, with Australian debt collectors chasing him earlier this month, on April 13.
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Seth, in his thirties, was shocked when he tried to buy a house in Melbourne in late 2019 and his bank told him he had an outstanding loan of $700 in his name.
“At the time, I got a home loan; that’s how it came to light,” he said.
A cybercriminal had taken out a $700 personal loan from Australian fintech OpenPay and now Seth was expected to repay it.
His application for a home loan “threw a spanner in the works,” he said.
He had to fight for nearly four months to clear his name.
OpenPay eventually apologized to him in acknowledgment that his identity had been stolen, reversed the bad credit they had put on his records, and filed a police report.
The company disclosed that they were able to hand out the loan because Seth’s name, date of birth and address matched their identifier matrix.
Seth thought it was all over, he changed his passwords, got a password manager and informed all the major institutions that he was now based in Hong Kong.
But late last year, collection agencies approached him for another debt, this time for $6300.
In September last year, Australian debt collection agency Panthera Finance contacted Seth and demanded that he repay $6300.
It turned out that in January 2019 a scammer opened an Optus account pretending to be Seth and bought it a brand new iPhone X with a 24-month subscription.
The fraudster had used Seth’s full name, date of birth, address and driver’s license number to open the account. They also provided an Australian mobile number and a dummy email address.
Interestingly, the phone was delivered to a different Melbourne address, not the one Seth supposedly lived at.
However, Seth has never been an Optus customer in his life and pointed out that he had lived in Hong Kong the whole time.
His Victorian driver’s license had also expired by then and he still holds the old driver’s license, leaving him wondering how Optus managed the purchase and delivery in the first place.
The total cost of the phone was $3499, but then the interest on the debt rose to $6300.
Optus then got tired of chasing him on the missing payments, so sold the debt to Panthera Finance, an outside debt buyer.
Last September, Panthera contacted him about the debt – and that was the first time he heard of it. Since then they have been asking him every month to pay back the money and that takes its toll.
“The stress and intimidation is the most annoying part,” he said. “They haven’t touched my credit, but I imagine if they don’t stop, it will eventually go to my credit.”
Panthera stressed that Seth was never put on a credit default list.
Seth disputed the blame and was given a copy of the contract he supposedly signed with Optus, but it had no signature.
This leads him to suspect that the scammer had his license number, but no photo of his actual license, which prevented them from forging his signature.
Optus honored the unsigned contract and still delivered the state-of-the-art iPhone.
Despite Panthera pointing out and providing proof that he was in Hong Kong when the iPhone was delivered and also explaining how his identity had been compromised in the past, Panthera was adamant that Seth would refund the money.
“Optus has informed us that the account was created with a driver’s license indicating your liability,” the creditor said in an email exchange to news.com.au.
“In addition, Optus has provided evidence of correspondence between them and you on 10/01/2019 regarding an update on the delivery of your order, further pointing out your liability.
“Based on the information and documentation currently available to Panthera Finance, our investigation to date indicates that it is more than likely that you will be liable… As such, the total balance of $634.70 remains outstanding.”
Seth was told to provide a police report or legal statement in order to open a fraud investigation.
He was unable to fill out a police report because he was based in Hong Kong and said that when he looked at a legal statement to be used in Australia it would cost him over $1000 which was “unfair” as this was not his fault .
A Panthera spokesperson said legal clearance is usually free of charge and they were unable to proceed with his case until he provided them with more documentation.
“It’s like I’ve been found guilty and have to prove my innocence even though they don’t have a signed copy of a contract as proof,” Seth said.
But after being approached by news.com.au, Panthera Finance waived the debt and released Seth.
“Panthera Finance can confirm that no payments are required in relation to the outstanding account, following an assessment by our chief of compliance and client advocacy,” said a spokesperson.
In late 2020, federal court fined Panthera Finance as much as $500,000 “for unnecessarily harassing three consumers with debts they did not have and for misleading one of the three consumers,” according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ( ACCC).
ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said: “Consumers were subjected to repeated and intrusive phone calls from Panthera and had to take multiple steps to prove they did not owe the alleged debt.”
Authorities received about 100 complaints about Panthera’s debt collection activities in the two years leading up to the case.
That said, the federal court and the ACCC concluded that the conduct against the three customers was “limited in scope” and was an isolated incident.
The ACCC also noted, “Panthera is a debt collection company that collects debt on behalf of other companies and by purchasing non-performing debt for significantly less than its face value and then attempting to recover the full amount.”
Panthera confirmed to news.com.au that they would bear the cost of Seth’s $6300 debt.
The company’s chief of compliance invited Seth to speak with him if he was unhappy with how they had handled his situation.
Optus declined to comment on Seth’s individual case, but said: “Optus is working with the wider telco industry to improve existing protocols and controls to prevent unauthorized access to customer accounts and services.”
*Last name withheld for privacy reasons.
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