Why did T-Mobile try to charge me $6000?
July 10, 2009 8:36 PM   Subscribe

T-Mobile just tried to charge my checking account almost $6000 despite the fact I don't have an account with T-Mobile. WTF?

So I logged into my checking account the other day and found that that there were two charges that shouldn't be on there, both for $30. The description in it said they were from t-mobile.com and the two $30s were a "fee" because there were insufficient funds in my account to pay for two charges, one for about $4000 and the other for about $1800.

I do not have an account with T-Mobile, nor have I ever signed up for service with them. I called them and they told me that no one has opened an account under my name or SSN.

I also called my credit union. They refunded the $60 and blocked all further transactions to t-mobile.com.

Am I a victim of identity theft? I don't see how it could have happened. I have not lost my checkbook, my wallet or anything in it. I'm careful with my stuff. Also, I have less than $100 in my checking account right now (I'm a college student who basically lives paycheck to paycheck). Why would someone try to take out $6000 (and in two separate transactions)?

None of my other financial accounts seem to have been compromised. Nothing else is out of place.

I've changed all my passwords/log in info for all my accounts online. I'm running a virus scan. I looked up my credit report online and everything looks legit.

So why did T-Mobile try to take $6000 from me?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It could easily be identity theft/fraud--anyone you've ever written a check to has your name, address, routing number and checking account number, which is all the info you usually need to make a payment online or over the phone. And even if they're honest, what if they lost your check before depositing it? Or left it out on a counter where somebody copied down the info? Or what if somebody took a copy of your bank statement from your mailbox? Etc. It's pretty easy to (try to) make a checking account payment from an account that's not yours.
posted by phoenixy at 8:51 PM on July 10, 2009

Hmmm. Wild-ass guess is that as a student, your university may have some lax security, and they might have information such as social security and bank account info. But there really are so many different ways.

I would consider all the items on this checklist. It isn't your fault, exactly -- it's just become frighteningly common.
posted by dhartung at 8:58 PM on July 10, 2009

Am I a victim of identity theft? I don't see how it could have happened. I have not lost my checkbook, my wallet or anything in it. I'm careful with my stuff.

I am a criminal defense attorney, and I represented a client who was allegedly involved in a ring of people who stole mail out of mailboxes, went through the mail and found checks that people were sending in to pay bills, and used those checks (and individual check numbers) to make telephone and online bill payments. So, a little old lady would send in a $100 check to cover her light bill, and a month or so later, would be bewildered to see that that very same check was used to pay a Wells Fargo mortgage payment, for a different (and usually much higher) amount.

I don't know if that's what happened to you, but you should be alert for any bills that you tried to pay with a check, that will come up unpaid because the check was stolen and destroyed once the thief got the information they needed.
posted by jayder at 9:03 PM on July 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh, if you think that my scenario sounds possible in your case, you should definitely contact the local police and the FBI. My experience is that these kinds of crimes are very high priority for the Feds because they involve stolen mail (a federal crime), mail/wire fraud, interstate activity, and multiple conspirators. The Secret Service may even get involved because of the forgery angle.

Interestingly, these crimes are often easy to solve because the culprits make very little effort to cover their tracks. The culprits often pay THEIR OWN BILLS with the stolen information.
posted by jayder at 9:11 PM on July 10, 2009

Never assign to malice what could be just corporate stupidity.

T-Mobile often, even years later, tries to charge my credit card because I dared use one of their airport wifi hotspots once.
posted by rokusan at 9:21 PM on July 10, 2009

T-Mobile often, even years later, tries to charge my credit card because I dared use one of their airport wifi hotspots once.

That's the answer I was hoping for.

Without it, I don't think I'd have dared to suggest that probably your identity has not been stolen, but T-Mobile's has.

It looks to me as if somebody out there is able to successfully represent themselves as T-Mobile to financial institutions, and induce them to make charges against accounts they have gotten the numbers of somehow.

If that's what's really going on, I'd guess they get away with it ~5% of the time, and that when they don't, everybody dismisses it as an unintentional mistake and just goes about their business.

It certainly wouldn't be in T-Mobile's interest to call attention to such a thing.
posted by jamjam at 9:42 PM on July 10, 2009

Please do remember, YOU aren't a victim of identity theft. It's just an awesome concept created by the banking industry to offload a problem - them being conned - onto their customers. Approach every conversation with the mindset and conviction that you've been wronged by the bank who got screwed over by some lowlife, and not that you were that lowlife's victim.
posted by jedrek at 2:32 AM on July 11, 2009 [6 favorites]

To back up what jayder said, I once had a mail carrier open a credit card in my name (pre-approved credit form stolen, completed, and then the card mailed to me... which the carrier took instead of delivering to me). The credit card issuer sent me to their Fraud department, and that department had me file a complaint with the police.

You might ask your credit union to speak with someone in the Fraud department, and then ask that person if you need to file with the police. Mail fraud (if that's what happened) is taken seriously.
posted by Houstonian at 4:48 AM on July 11, 2009

Sort of what jayder said:

Here in NYC, I have heard of people who pay other people's T-Mobile bill for half the price, but I am pretty sure they are using a stolen credit card or bank account. Someone I know who used the "service," ended up having his payment reversed (I guess after T-Mobile discovered the fruad) and ended up with unexpected interrupted phone service for the then past due amount.

Similarly other people can offer deeply discounted Metrocards (you pay $40 for an unlimited monthly card), but there is a short life on the card until the fraud is detected by the MTA and your card suddenly has insufficient fare.
posted by alice ayres at 7:19 AM on July 11, 2009

To be safe, I would suggest closing your current checking account and opening a new one with a new number.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:23 AM on July 11, 2009

When you spoke to T-mobile, did you check whether they'd raised any transactions against your cheque account number? Financial transactions are all about account numbers and they do get transposed in error occasionally. It's highly possible that Jane Doe's cheque account is only one digit off your own and that her banking details were entered into T-mobile's system incorrectly.
posted by Lolie at 12:08 PM on July 11, 2009

> Financial transactions are all about account numbers and they do get transposed in error occasionally

Perhaps, but how common is a $6000 phone bill? Seriously.

I vote for straight up fraud. Call the police non-emergency line and report it. Get on your bank's case about this as well.
posted by cj_ at 1:14 PM on July 11, 2009

Someone recently stole my Amex number and used it twice before Amex caught it (they reversed the charges). I'm pretty sure it happened when I paid for a restaurant meal and the card was out of my sight for a few minutes. Amex sent me a new card with a different number. You might have had your account and routing number stolen by a dishonest employee after you paid for something by check. I'd talk to your bank and think about closing the account and opening another.
posted by zinfandel at 7:05 PM on July 11, 2009

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