A Clayton grandma was left scared the bailiffs would come knocking on her door after callous fraudsters took out phone contracts in her name.
Michelle Searle was targeted by scammers who used her private details to take out various accounts with mobile network O2 without her permission.
They then hid behind her name to run up arrears on the contracts.
It was last December when she first started receiving letters in the post telling her she owed various amounts of money on phone bills she knew nothing about.
Just weeks after suffering a frightening heart attack and unable to work, the demand for money added to the stress that the grandma of seven was already feeling.
She says she was left ‘totally confused’ as to how fraudsters managed to open accounts with her details.
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She had initially received two letters on December 14, linked to two different mobile phone contracts taken out with O2 in her name.
The ‘default notice’ letters urged her to pay two amounts – £30.99 and £20 – within a matter of weeks.
She immediately contacted O2 who she claimed passed the information on to the fraud team and told her they would be in touch.
But it was just weeks later that a further two letters were then posted through her door.
At the top of the letters were her full name and address, followed by a request to pay off an additional £18 and £23.50.
The GP receptionist, 50, from Clayton in Manchester, said her credit score then plummeted by more than 100 points.
She feared this could throw the dream of her finally owning her rented home of 23 years, into jeopardy.
Feeling concerned, she checked her online credit score, which told her that she actually owed almost £2,000 to the mobile network.
speaking to the Manchester Evening News she said: “It was just a week or so before Christmas that I got the first set of letters, with different account numbers on them with O2.
“I had to do a double take at first. I was like what on earth is going on?
“I didn’t know what to do, so I contacted O2 straight away to tell them it wasn’t me, but it had already been reported on my credit file.
“The amounts on the letters were much smaller than what my credit score said I owed online. It had two accounts on there which said I owed almost £2,000.
“I just couldn’t believe it. It was so stressful as I found myself trying to find out how this happened but was told I had to wait for the fraud team to get back in touch with me.”
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After first contacting O2, Michelle says she was told that the fraud team would be in touch within ten working days.
However just days later, two more letters came through her letterbox telling her she owed varying amounts on other accounts.
And having not paid the outstanding bills on the first two letters, O2 then proceeded to send her notices telling her that the mobile phones she didn’t own would be disconnected.
They told her to ‘urgently’ contact them to pay the outstanding fees, or her debt could risk being sold onto a debt collection agency.
“I was seriously panicking thinking the bailiffs would be at my door demanding money I don’t owe or know anything about,” Michelle added.
“My credit score has dropped by more than 100 points because of this. I have rented my house for 23 years and wanted to buy it because I love living here, but this could stop being from getting a mortgage.
“I have only just been able to go back to work after my heart attack, and this has been so much stress on top of it all.
“It makes me worry how easily people can take out accounts in your name and I want to urge anyone to check their credit scores to make sure this hasn’t been done to them too.
“I have never had an account or any dealings with O2, so this came as a complete shock.
“I tried to explain it isn’t me and I had nothing to do with it, but kept getting the letters through the post. There was nothing else I could do.”
Following the Manchester Evening News making contact with O2, Michelle has since been contacted and had all of the arrears with the company wiped.
O2 have since confirmed that the accounts were opened in Michelle’s name online with her personal details that the fraudster had already gathered from elsewhere, such as on the dark web or data breaches.
This meant they passed all the relevant security checks allowing them to take out the contracts.
A O2 spokesperson said: “We take fraud and security incredibly seriously and have closed the fraudulent accounts set up in Ms Searle’s name and are updating the victim’s credit file.
“We’ve spoken to Ms Searle to inform her of this and apologize for the delay in resolving the issue, who is happy the matter is now resolved.”
Following the news yesterday, Michelle said she was happy her name could finally be cleared and urged others to be vigilant and check credit reports online.
“I am so happy this is over, but I will wait the seven days to see if it is completely wiped from my credit score before I forget about it,” she added.
“It is disgusting that this was allowed to happen and that people can use your information against you. This could be an eye opener for a lot of people.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.