Protecting yourself from cell phone account fraud

June 12, 2019

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I have frozen my credit with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to help reduce my risk of identity theft. I just heard that I could be at risk of cell phone fraud because there is another credit reporting agency that keeps data on telecommunications and utilities accounts. What are these other credit reporting agencies? Do they allow you to freeze your credit, and, if so, how do I do that?

Consumer Ed says:

Cell phone fraud is a real and growing concern. This occurs when criminals open up fake cell phone accounts in someone else’s name and use those accounts to access the victims’ bank accounts, sign up for credit cards, or sell the phone number to other crooks.

When you go to open a cell phone account, the provider typically checks your credit to make sure you are creditworthy. Rather than using one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) for this purpose, phone providers use the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange (NCTUE), which deals specifically with utilities and telecom inquiries. NCTUE’s database contains more than 150 million files and is housed and managed by Equifax, (although it does not include Equifax credit information, and Equifax is not a member).

To reduce your risk of this type of cell phone account fraud, the best thing to do is to place a security freeze (also called a credit freeze) on your NCTUE credit file. With a security freeze in place, a phone or utility company will be unable to access your credit file to determine whether it is a good risk to allow you to open an account. As a result, a fraudster’s attempt to open an account in your name would be prevented. To determine whether NCTUE maintains information about you, call 1-866-349-5185. To place a credit freeze on your NCTUE credit file, call 1-866-343-2821. Keep in mind that if you want to open a new telecom account yourself, you may need to temporarily lift the freeze.

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