About two months ago a letter from Telstra arrived in my letterbox. It was addressed to someone I don’t know but used my correct street address. I thought of writing ‘not at this address – return to sender’ on it, but that is completely ineffective. I still get mail addressed to previous occupants of my property even though I have lived here for 5 years. Corporations don’t use returned mail to update their records.

I knew I would have to open the letter and use the information it contained to fix the problem. It was a welcoming letter confirming the creation of a new mobile phone account. I was concerned about identity theft and the potential for the malicious use of my address to run up debt that lazy corporations may try to hold me accountable for. The letter contained details about a customer service email address, so I wrote an email explaining the details and asking them to investigate the correct address and fix their records.

Of course I never got a response, and over a month later the first bill for this account arrived at my address. It was for over $1000. I realised I had little choice but to call Telstra customer service and attempt to get them to fix the problem. Calling customer service at Telstra is the closest thing to legal torture in Australia.

I call, mumble my way through the automated voice prompts to make it direct my call to a human unit, and explain the situation. The unit claims to understand the scope of the issue, but demands my date of birth so he can log into my account. No, I say. This is not about my account. This is about my street address in someone else’s account. You don’t even know whether I have an account with you.

I refused to give my date of birth and offered instead the street address. The unit refused to accept that he was asking the wrong question, so I demanded to speak to his supervisor. He refused this, saying he would speak to him, and he put me on hold for several minutes while he did so. When he returned he again tried to get my account details and I again refused.

He then told me to take the letter to the post office to do a ‘not at this address – return to sender’. No, I said. It’s not the post office’s problem. It’s your problem and you have to take responsibility for it. The best case scenario for you is that this is the result of a typo that you must correct. The worst case scenario is that it is a case of deliberate fraud. You must take this more seriously.

I demanded to speak to the supervisor again. The unit agreed and put me on hold, then I got the supervisor. The superior unit came up with the amazing idea of getting the account number for the mobile account from me so they could call the customer and check the address. Just as I suggested they do in my email weeks ago. Fucking brilliant. And the superior unit acknowledged they didn’t need to verify my account to do this.

Of course they do know that I have an account with them because I was using my home phone to make the call, and that apparently is displayed in their call system. But that is not the point. The point is that Telstra are lazy morons who don’t care about the risk of fraud or identity theft and who want to avoid taking responsibility for their own errors.

Artist Judy Horacek also has an absurd story to tell about Telstra’s indifferent attitude to identity theft.

Telstra doesn’t take identity theft seriously

9 thoughts on “Telstra doesn’t take identity theft seriously

  • 27 April 2011 at 10:47 pm
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    Yeah Telstra are morons but opening the letter made this your problem – returning to sender means you are not accepting it, and cannot be liable for anything in it. In the end doing this was a lot quicker than calling them and going through the above process.

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    • 27 April 2011 at 11:26 pm
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      Congratulations on completely missing the point. Without acting to stop the letters they would have continued to arrive, and if it was a case of fraud it would have continued without discovery. Why bother commenting if you don’t understand what you’re talking about?

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  • 30 April 2011 at 3:36 pm
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    I had a very similar experience – I sent ~10 letters back to Telstra marked ‘return to sender’ for someone who has never lived in my apartment. I continued to get mail for the person so went into the Telstra shop on three separate occasions with different letters to explain that the person had never lived at the address.

    I was told that ‘return to sender’ mail is not actually returned to Telstra but is destroyed by Australia Post. At which I questioned how would Telstra know to stop sending it?!

    Finally after demanding over and over to speak to someone who would guarantee that the would effectively stop the mail from coming (it had been over a year!), I got onto someone who seems familiar with the process to deal with it.

    Opening the mail yourself is risky as you are violating privacy laws, but I certainly did not expect Telstra to be completely unresponsive when I did all that I could reasonably do to notify them that the person was not at my address!

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    • 30 April 2011 at 3:42 pm
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      I didn’t want to open the mail of course, but there was no way to avoid it. In this situation, the potential consequences of identity theft and fraud are far worse than the invasion of privacy.

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  • 1 May 2011 at 11:16 pm
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    Perhaps I don’t understand. I really don’t see how going through the process of calling Telstra is more time efficient that marking a letter return to sender, even if you have to do it 10 plus times. And as for fraud, well if its a genuine concern call the police! I’m guessing I know why you didn’t consider that option.

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    • 1 May 2011 at 11:20 pm
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      Because return to send mail is not received by the sender or is not acted on. It could be fraud; there’s insufficient evidence to know for sure. You just don’t understand.

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  • 2 May 2011 at 1:52 am
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    I have to say I didn’t believe the return to sender mail got acted on but by doing it with an ex tenants mail steadily for a year I’ve stopled getting her stuff. It wasn’t big companies tho so maybe that makes a difference. Or maybe she’s just got around to fixing her address :-) anyway. Think you did the right thing. So frustrating getting call centre people to listen to what you are actually saying.

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  • 2 May 2011 at 2:45 pm
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    The policy on ‘return to sender’ mail differs depending on the company – some require a certain number of returns before they act. Some simply pay Australia Post to destroy it so that they never even see it (this is what Telstra told me they did).

    I just wanted to stop getting the mail – after over a year of returning it to sender, I figured the only choice was to get the problem sorted in person! And it finally worked (after two in person attempts!)

    And brian, if identity theft relates to someone else’s identity being stolen, why put yourself at risk of violating privacy regulations?

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    • 2 May 2011 at 3:53 pm
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      My postal address is part of my ‘identity’ in terms of mail and utility accounts, so it was possible someone was deliberately misusing my address. Identity is not just about names.

      Reply

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