The Identity Thief Upstairs


The Identity Thief Upstairs

After a petty dispute, Britt Erica Tunick's neighbor retaliated by giving her e-mail address and cell-phone number to marketers. So she took him to court.

How did the argument with your upstairs neighbor start? I admonished him for not cleaning our building's lobby during his assigned month. Two hours later, a flood of spam began pouring into my inbox, and my mobile phone began ringing nonstop. I immediately suspected that he had impersonated me online. He also ordered merchandise in my name.


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What did you do? I contacted Equifax and asked for a fraud alert to be placed on my credit file so that anytime someone tries to open an account in my name, the creditor needs to verify the request. The same warning was automatically placed with the other two major credit agencies. And by getting a police report, I was able to extend that fraud protection from 90 days to seven years. I also told the companies that were sending me stuff that the orders were phony and not to bill me.

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How did you prove your neighbor was to blame? I contacted the customer-service departments of several of the companies spamming me and asked for the Internet Protocol (IP) address -- the equivalent of an electronic fingerprint -- for the computer used to submit my information. Using IP-tracking Web sites, I tracked it to Comcast. But it took a subpoena to get Comcast to confirm who owned the IP address.

Was it difficult to press criminal charges? Jersey City prosecutors had little experience with such cases and initially resisted taking on the matter. But I familiarized myself with the state's identity-theft laws and was able to persuade the prosecutors to charge him with a felony. A plea bargain reduced the charges to a misdemeanor, but my neighbor incurred thousands of dollars in legal fees and admitted guilt on the public record. It was a frustrating process. It took 18 months from start to finish and countless trips to the courthouse.

Any other effects? Reining in the spam proved impossible, so I ultimately had to shut down my e-mail account and nearly had to get a new mobile-phone number. I've become far more careful about who I give my contact information to.