A RECUPERATING pensioner feared she had become a victim of identity theft after a stranger told a telephone company she was moving into the 73-year-old’s home.
After fracturing her collar bone in three places, Lily Hurst went to Turkey in September for three weeks to convalesce.
She enjoyed her holiday, but on her return to South Tyneside, her world was turned upside down.
Waiting for her at home in Shaw Avenue, South Shields, was a letter from BT.
The telecommunications firm told her that a customer had contacted it to say she was moving into Mrs Hurst’s property, and that she wanted to take over responsibility for its telephone line.
The Post Office, Mrs Hurst’s telephone provider at the time, had even sanctioned the switch of the account to the other woman’s name.
Mrs Hurst contacted both companies frantically in an effort to get to the bottom of the mix-up.
However, attempts to contact the woman who made the original transfer request failed, as her mobile phone was constantly switched off.
Mrs Hurst said: “The whole situation has left me so distressed. It felt as if my identity had been stolen, and nobody could do anything about it.
“My telephone account was in the name of a person I didn’t know and I had a new telephone number I had not asked for.
“This should never have been allowed to happen. The Post Office should have waited for a response from me before allowing my account to be transferred.
“I was on holiday, so I couldn’t respond, but the switch still went ahead anyway.
“Apparently they now think it was an error, but I have paid the price of lots of stress and hassle as a result of this stupid woman.”
After receiving support from the borough’s citizens’ advice bureau, Mrs Hurst has decided to switch her custom to BT.
She added: “I spoke to BT, and they were very understanding. Now I’ll stay with them. I just want to put this behind me.”
A spokeswoman for BT said: “What has happened is that BT received an order placed online from a third party to take over service at Shaw Avenue.
“This is quite usual if, for instance, someone was moving house. To try to avoid issues such as the one that has arisen here, checks then take place.
“In this case, an e-mail was sent to the person who had applied for service confirming the order and address, and a letter was also sent to the address asking the householder to make contact if they had any objection.
“BT was contacted by Mrs Hurst on October 10, but unfortunately this was the very day the transfer of service had taken place.
“Mrs Hurst currently has a working service in her house, but this account and service is in the name of the third party.
“We have been unable to contact the third party, whose mobile phone is switched off.”
A Post Office spokesperson said: “We would like to apologise to Mrs Hurst for the problems experienced with her Post Office HomePhone account.
“This is due to BT taking over her phone line.
“Mrs Hurst’s daughter attempted to stop the takeover, but as she was not the designated account holder, and due to our data protection laws, we could not agree the actions with her without the account holder’s consent.
“We are very sorry to hear that Mrs Hurst has decided to move her account to BT but hope to welcome her back in the future.”