A B.C. mother says she's been harassed by collections agencies for months after someone fraudulently opened an account with Bell Mobility under her name just over two years ago.
Erica Philips was informed by a debt collection agency that she owed thousands of dollars to Bell Mobility despite informing the company that she did not open the account and had filed a police report.
The 30-year-old mother told V.I.A. that the collection agency has been calling twice daily from Monday to Friday since October 2022.
"It's so incredibly frustrating that this situation never should have happened to begin with and is forcing itself to the top of my mind every day," she said.
Phillips was living in Vancouver in December 2020 when she stopped by her parent's house in North Vancouver for a visit. That's when she opened two pieces of unusual mail: one from Rogers Communications dated Dec. 12, 2020, and the other, dated Dec. 14, 2020, from Bell Mobility.
Both of the letters were "pre-cancellation" notices stating that Phillips' cell phone service had been suspended for non-payment. However, she hadn't opened either of the accounts.
At first, the Vancouver woman thought the letters were a scam; she didn't believe that anyone had actually opened accounts in her name. When she received a third piece of mail from Rogers on Dec. 19, 2020, and then a fourth from Bell on Jan. 8, 2021, she contacted both companies to report the suspicious activity.
"Rogers got back to me within a week or two and said: 'All good. It's cancelled. Everything is coming off your credit report. Sorry that this happened," she explained.
When she contacted Bell, however, the company told her that the account was legitimate.
"They kept calling and saying, 'We found this to be valid and you owe us money."
Bell Mobility number issued to the fraudulent account
When she asked the company what type of identification was used to open the account, Bell told her that a driver's license was used at a store in Vancouver. She had lost her wallet a couple of years prior to the incident that had her driver's license in it.
On Jan. 12, 2021, Phillips filed a report with the North Vancouver RCMP but Bell continued to contact her multiple times a day. While the company could tell her the information the person used to open the account, they were unable to provide further information about it once it was under police investigation.
Phillips submitted a report to Transunion on Jan. 22, 2021, the credit reporting agency told her that "Bell Mobility is reporting correctly," meaning that it did indicate suspicious activity. In the same report, however, the company notes that the Rogers account was fraudulent and was opened in the same month.
For several months, two debt collection agencies called Phillips for the money owed to Bell. On Oct. 25, Bell re-opened the file for an investigation and the calls stopped.
But on Oct 15, 2022, nearly a year later, a third collections agency reached out on behalf of Bell stating that Phillips owed $3,295.52. Before it was sent to collections, the company issued a bill dated Jan. 8, 2021, for $788.33.
Phillips said she tried to contact the RCMP on Oct. 22 but she didn't receive a response. After this point, she started receiving multiple calls a day and she'd just had a baby in July.
"This was out of control and ridiculous and because I [had] a new baby I needed this to be done with," she explained.
After trying to rectify the situation with the company directly, Phillips turned to social media. Bell responded to an Instagram post in November 2021 in a direct message, stating that the account was still found to be valid.
The debt collectors continued to call the new mother into the new year and she turned to TikTok as a way to reach a larger audience, adding that "this isn't the type of thing [she] wants to post publicly" but felt that she had no other choice.
Vancouver mom struggles with mental health following during Bell incident
Phillips said the ongoing stress has affected her mental health and she discusses it with her therapist. She's also received mental health stories from people who were also victims of fraud or had similar struggles.
Bell Let's Talk, a day geared toward promoting mental health awareness in Canada, was held on Jan. 25. Phillips said she received multiple notifications for it on her social media.
A spokesperson for Bell Mobility told V.I.A. that it conducted an investigation and "determined that this account was fraudulent," adding that it advised its "affiliated credit agencies of the billing error."
Kevin Westell, one of the principal lawyers and founding partners at Pender Litigation in Vancouver, represents clients at all levels of court in British Columbia.
In cases of fraud and identity theft, individuals must act "swiftly" and notify the police if they need to.
"The more you can exhibit to the provider or the authorities that you're taking an identify fraud issue seriously, the better you're going to be," he said.
In regard to the Bell issue, Westell said contacting the media may have been the best recourse for Phillips at this time. As he noted, they are a major service provider in the public sphere, and "so it's fair game."
North Vancouver RCMP spokesperson Const. Mansoor Sahak told V.I.A. that the detachment was conducting an investigation into the incident in 2021. But he noted that police "get so many of these fraud files and they are very time-consuming to investigate."
"We try to focus on big losses but even then the investigation might not lead anywhere as they are very complex," he said.
Sahak added people should immediately report thefts to police and shouldn't give out their identification. He also recommended that people register with Equifax to prevent fraud.
Phillips said Bell reached out to her but did not apologize for the situation.
Watch a TikTok the Vancouver mom created about the Bell incident.
@ericaphil Shot on iPhone (8!! On Telus!!) @Bell Mobility #advice #bellmobility #bell #fraud #help #canadianoligarch ? original sound - Erica Phil