If you discovered that a major mobile phone company had allowed someone else to take out a contract in your name, you would rightly be furious.
But what if that “someone else” turned out to be your mother, who hadn’t paid the bill and as a result, the company slapped a black mark on your credit record to the extent you couldn’t get a mortgage?
That is the highly unusual position that a couple from the West Midlands have found themselves in. David Platt and Tessa James* say they have been left astonished by the fact that Tesco Mobile gave Platt’s mother an iPhone contract in his name.
It then added insult to injury, they say, by refusing to take the £592 default off Platt’s credit file – even after staff were told that he and his mother were estranged, and she had defrauded Tesco Mobile. Instead, the firm advised Platt to take his mum to the small claims court.
The case shows how difficult it can be to get a company to take you seriously if you have been defrauded by a relative or, more often, a former partner. It is also further evidence of how a missed mobile payment can ruin your financial record.
The first the couple knew of the mobile contract was when they recently investigated why they had been turned down for their first mortgage. They were told to look at Platt’s credit file, where they soon discovered the default. It related to a £592 balance outstanding on the mobile phone account.
It then emerged that in 2015, Platt’s mother had succeeded in persuading Tesco Mobile to give her a new iPhone on a contract taken out in his name.
He had been living with her at the time so she would have known most, if not all, of his personal details: date of birth, mother’s maiden name and so on. Crucially, she was able to hand over her own bank account details to cover the monthly payments, and grab letters sent to him. It left him none the wiser as there was no trace of any payments on his account.
The couple suspect Platt’s mother did it because she would have been refused for a contract in her own name, due to previous financial problems. When she did not make the required payments, Tesco Mobile put the account into default.
“David no longer lives at home, and he and his mother don’t talk to each other and are essentially estranged,” says Tessa. “When we discovered what had happened, I messaged his mother about this, and she didn’t deny it. In fact, she appears to find the whole thing hilarious but for us this has been a nightmare.”
The couple say they were told they would have to pay the £592 debt and would face having to come up with a much higher deposit of 15% if they wanted a mortgage, which was near-impossible for them.
“Ever since we discovered this, we have been battling with Tesco Mobile to get them to sort this out. They were quite happy to give a phone to someone without checking that their ID matched up – someone who handed over a bank account in a different name. But their stance has been that this can’t have been fraud because it’s your mum. They told us they believe it is a civil matter.
“We have been to the police, who took the matter seriously and gave us a crime reference number but Tesco maintains it has done nothing wrong and will not remove the non-payment marker against his name. It has been a complete nightmare – one we can’t resolve,” she says.
Following Guardian Money’s intervention, Tesco Mobile, whose customer satisfaction figures have fallen in recent months, had a swift change of heart. It has written off the debt and removed the default from Platt’s credit file.
Tesco Mobile told us it made numerous attempts to advise Platt about the debt, including sending letters to the family home.
“We were contacted by the customer earlier this year but the matter was classed as a civil issue due to the information provided, and he was advised of what action to take. Now he has been able to provide a crime reference number, we have changed the status of the incident to fraud. Our customers’ security is of utmost importance to us and we have introduced even stronger security measures to our end-to-end ID verification, which now prevent customers from using a different account name to the bank details they provide,” the firm said.
The couple are not the first to find someone has used their ID to take out a mobile contract. In 2012, Money revealed how lax security measures at mobile firms allowed customers using fake ID to take out contracts. One reader had nine contracts taken out in his name. Another had a similar problem with Tesco Mobile, which was said to have had a particular issue with fraud back then. Pressure to make sales was blamed for lax security.
Platt is not the first to suffer financial abuse by a family member. A 2014 Citizens Advice report described it as a growing yet rarely discussed problem.
James Jones at credit reference agency Experian says such cases are unusual. “I have seen the occasional case where credit has been taken out by a family member without the person’s knowledge – which is, without a doubt, ID fraud – but it’s quite rare. Experian has a special team set up for victims of fraud,” he says. The number is 0344 481 8000.
*Names have been changed.