Comcast Condones Identity Theft
I couldn’t believe it when I read the emails. Comcast condones identity theft? How can this be? But there it was, staring at me from the pages of emails given to me by someone (who shall remain nameless for protection) who decided to speak out. Then again, with Comcast’s not-so-sparkling reputation, I wasn’t surprised to learn of this unscrupulous tactic. What worries me is that Comcast customers have no idea this is happening – because the lousy customer service isn’t bad enough, right?
I came across this person – for lack of a better word, I’ll use the term whistleblower, since it seems apropos – some time ago. The whistleblower told me about this call center job at Comcast, where the customer verification process was often questionable, and likely unethical. The whistleblower felt the public needed to be informed of this offensive (and dangerous and possibly illegal) policy. So I decided to post it here, curious about whether this news will spread like a wildfire or not.
At some point during employment, the whistleblower downloaded and printed some (proprietary) emails that were exchanged between the whistleblower and a supervisor regarding customer ID verification and the provided Social Security Number (ssn). According to this person, the ssn is used by Comcast to verify a customer (name, address, etc.) before placing an order for cable, phone, and/or internet. The whistleblower explained that, at the time, a customer who refused to provide a valid ssn to open an account was charged a deposit that ranged from fifty to one hundred fifty dollars, depending on the results of the credit check (as told to me, this is an internal check and the Comcast customer service rep cannot see a person’s credit report info; a button is clicked and the response is either NO DEPOSIT REQUIRED or the amount of deposit due in order to go forward with the order).
Here’s how the sales reps got around it: If the sales rep on the phone stated the ID had been “verified” – even though the call center representative (CSR) saw different information in the verification system (they used Accurint to gain access to private information to verify the customer) – the CSR is to place the order. The reasoning here is that there is a record of the phone call, so if the sales rep states ID verification, the responsibility for that verification falls on the sales rep and not the CSR – or Comcast. How convenient.
With so many concerns about identity theft out there today, one must protect one’s social security number. Otherwise, someone has your life in a matter of minutes (and your family’s as well, since searches of public records can often bring up relatives, neighbors, and friends associated with you). And here’s Comcast, abusing that privilege by allowing their (in-house and contractor) sales reps to state on the phone that they’ve verified an ID, even when the ID is known by the CSR to be false or to not belong to that person. The whistleblower told me that invalid social security numbers were provided by customers on a daily basis, such as those beginning with 800s or 900s. According to my research, the Social Security Administration has not given out any ssn beginning with 800 or 900 numbers; some beginning with 600s and 700s are also considered invalid, though they are now used for foreigners and newborns (that parents use to get Comcast accounts, believe it or not).
The following is an excerpt of the emails provided to me. I have not included the names of the persons involved to protect them. However, I have included the dates of the emails as well as the subject line:
Sent: Monday, June 24, 2013
Subject: Take the word of the sales rep – Verifying ID
Supervisor: Team – going forward we are to take the word of the sales rep concerning Customer ID Verification. You can still communicate the information that you have discovered [the false ID info] but you will need to ask the sales rep if they have verified the ID and if he/she states “YES,” you are to move forward with the order.
Let me add that per the whistleblower, if the ssn did not match, the customer was normally required to provide another valid ID (driver license, passport, etc.) that was on an company list of acceptable IDs. The customer then had to pay a deposit, which is added to the first bill. This policy was changed only when there was a shortage of new customers (“subs”) and the company’s numbers were not meeting monthly expectations. (In other words, this policy was in place off and on, depending on sales numbers of “subs,” or new customers.)
In this group of emails, there is a stated concern by the whistleblower about verifying ssn known to be false or incorrect:
Sent: Monday, June 24, 2013
Subject: RE: take the word of the sales rep – verifying ID
Whistleblower: Does this include when the ssn or the driver license does not match Accurint results? (different than no records found because the ID may be valid)
Whistleblower: Let me be clear – if the Accurint results shows the ssn belongs to someone else, sales rep should place the order?
Supervisor: YES. We are taking the word of the sales rep. If it is suspicious it can be reported to the supervisors. We will investigate. But the order should be entered off the sales rep’s word going forward.
Whistleblower: Okay…but won’t that cause problems if we unknowingly place orders with identifications that are false or may be false or cannot be verified? Based on what you’re saying, then we no longer have a need for Accurint, since we are only going on what the sales rep says she/he has verified. How does that affect what I do? Because if I see an ssn or DL that doesn’t match at all, I’m likely to put the account in no schedule or send it to Collections.
Supervisor: This is something upper management [Finance department, I’m told] has decided. We are following directive. If it is suspicious, we will investigate on the back end
According to the whistleblower, invalid IDs were not investigated and the orders were placed to increase new customer numbers, especially during slow times of the year or when monthly goals were not met.
Also, many CSRs in the call center were concerned with placing orders where they were unable to verify the customer via ssn or ID. In many cases, it led to disputes between couples going through divorce (they used each other’s ID info), mothers using their children’s ssn (this was a common occurrence, I was told, which ruined the child’s credit before the age of eighteen so they couldn’t get an account in their names when they reached the legal age and had to go through a lengthy process to clear their names), people using ssn that were blatantly not theirs to use (per Accurint), and many using ssn that were invalid per the Social Security Administration.
We’re now in the Digital Age and this kind of malfeasance cannot be tolerated. Unless you’re Comcast Corporation. Comcast customers have the right to know that someone else may be using their social security number. This is risky business for the sake of pumping up the numbers and recording a profit. Personally, I’d rather provide my driver license info and pay the deposit. Then again, best to avoid Comcast cable altogether, if possible.