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BLOG: Who was the mystery woman in the hallway?

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

I’ve written numerous stories about identity theft and fraud over the years – but that didn’t stop me being shocked by an audacious scam carried out literally on my doorstep.

My neighbour’s identity was stolen by fraudsters who subsequently opened a bank account, ordered three mobile phones, and attempted to take out a loan in her name.

She’s not alone in being a victim of ID theft. Latest figures from CIFAS’ National Fraud Database revealed a surge in ID fraud last year with an 11% increase in this type of crime in the first six months of 2021.

Cases had fallen in 2020, linked to the decline in economic activity caused by the pandemic. But the ID fraudsters were soon back in business when normal life started to return.

When I say the scam was carried out on my doorstep, that’s where I physically encountered one of the scammers.

When my intercom buzzer went one lunchtime last week, I didn’t think anything of it and pushed the button to open the front door expecting it to be the postman or a parcel delivery.

So, when I saw it wasn’t a delivery driver but a middle-aged woman standing in the hallway, I asked her what she was doing. She claimed her aunt lived in the block and she was meeting her.

I wasn’t convinced by her story so I challenged it. Which flat did her aunt live in? What was her name? Where had they arranged to meet? I know all my neighbours and everyone is the wrong age/gender/ethnicity to be this woman’s aunt.

I was contemplating my next move – I was just about to go to the gym but I didn’t want to leave a stranger hanging around in the hallway – when events took an interesting turn.

Two men from parcel company DPD’s security division appeared and detained the woman as she attempted to intercept the delivery of a brand new iPhone 13 to my neighbour’s flat. The DPD guys called the police and the woman was subsequently arrested.

DPD have remained tightlipped about how they knew the woman would be at my block that day, but said they had intelligence from the mobile network who’d sent the phone. They said she was part of a criminal gang. Scary stuff.

Another phone turned up for my neighbour the next day from a different network, then a bank card for a new Lloyds bank account set up in her name.

Presumably the woman I’d encountered planned to steal these too if she hadn’t been caught.

How had she stolen my neighbour’s identity? No one’s quite sure but a new bank card that went missing in the chaotic Covid-hit pre-Christmas post seems to be the most probable explanation.

Someone could have stolen the card in its postal journey or they could have wandered into our block and stolen it from the pile of post in the communal hallway.

It’s also possible that after my neighbour’s card was stolen, its details were sold online or on the darknet. This can also happen if there is a data breach or a company is subjected to a cyber attack. Fraudsters then use the stolen details to pose as legitimate customers and pass credit checks.

Blocks of flats are often targeted for this type of fraud. Scammers gain entry to communal areas of buildings then wait for delivery drivers or for the postman to arrive with the aim of intercepting parcels or stealing post.

In this sorry tale, the scammers had managed to order three phones and open a bank account in my neighbour’s name. An application for a loan was turned down. She’s been left with an administrative nightmare, daily communication with the police and Action Fraud, and has yet to assess the impact on her credit record.

For everyone else who lives here, the incident has reminded us to shut the front door behind us and challenge any strangers hanging around. We’re investigating ways to make our post more secure too.