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FOX 13 Investigates: How Vivint Smart Home used what a federal official calls 'identity theft' to boost sales

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Posted at 9:38 PM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-18 07:50:18-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Dionne Crump is a 55-year-old grandmother in Detroit who had never heard of Vivint Smart Home.

“In 2019, I found out there were 10 accounts opened in my name through a company called Vivint,” Crump said.

“I just happened to look on my credit report and see that it was listed,” she explained, “that I had 10 accounts opened on the same day that I did not open that totaled… I think it was $39,900 and something.”

Crump isn’t the only person who wound up with mysterious Vivint accounts. According to a federal lawsuit filed in Alabama, one of the plaintiffs found seven unauthorized accounts registered to homes in Texas. At one point, she was told she owed nearly $15,000.

Vivint is one of the biggest technology firms in Utah. Its name is on the Utah Jazz’s arena. But the federal government says it was unlawfully using people’s credit and identities to open accounts.

In January, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a $3.2 million settlement with the company. Three months later, the Federal Trade Commission announced a $20 million settlement.

The FTC also explained how the unauthorized accounts were created.

One method is called white paging. It takes its name from the residential listings in phone books.

If a potential customer didn’t have good enough credit to finance a Vivint Smart Home system, the FTC explained, the salesperson would find a person with a similar name and use his or her credit instead. If a John Smith, for example, had bad credit, the salesperson would find a John Smith with good credit and apply it to the first Smith’s application.

In other instances, according to the FTC, the Vivint salesperson would ask the potential customer for the name of a relative or acquaintance with good credit. The salesperson would add him or her as a co-signer without the person’s permission.

Sometimes, the salesperson added a co-signer that even the customer didn’t know about.

When the customers defaulted, the FTC says, innocent third parties had their credit scores lowered and were pursued by debt collectors.

“This behavior that's not consistent with some integrity and doing right by consumers has no part of this company,” said Todd Pedersen, the then-CEO of Vivint, on May 14 during a quarterly earnings call.

“But back in 2017,” Pedersen added, “we did have some salespeople that got around some systems that we found out and let those people go.”

But the FTC complaint says that while Vivint in 2017 terminated hundreds of sales staff, it later hired some of them back.

FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, in a written statement, said the white paging was identity theft.

“It appears that that management turned a blind eye to the scam,” Chopra wrote, “because the company could pump up its sales figures in ways that would help score a higher valuation when going public.”

Vivint entered the New York Stock Exchange in January 2020.

As for the pending lawsuit in Alabama, Vivint has said in court filings that it was defrauded by its own staff’s sales practices.

A Vivint spokeswoman declined FOX 13’s request for on-camera interviews and did not answer a question about who used Crump’s ID or collected commissions on the accounts in her name. Crump reported the use of her ID to police and could forward a name to detectives.

The company did provide a written statement reading in part:

“We had already taken steps before the FTC began its review to strengthen our compliance policies, and will continue to make this a focus going forward.”

FOX 13 tried to participate in Vivint’s quarterly earnings call earlier this month. No one called on us to pose a question.

But new Vivint CEO David Bywater did say the company is taking steps to ensure good sales practices.

“So, if anyone ever has any questions on that,” Bywater said, “talk to me personally.”

After about two years of back-and-forth with Vivint, bill collectors and credit rating agencies, Crump says her case was resolved last month. The 10 accounts in her name and the debts were canceled. Her credit score was restored.

Now, Crump would like to be compensated for her trouble and the extra interest she had to pay on other lines of credit while the Vivint debts were on her record.

“They see all these listings of account for almost $40,000,” Crump said. “Didn’t nobody want to give me no credit.”

What would she say to Vivint?

“I think that it’s sad that you use people’s identity to gain profit.”

As part of its settlement with the FTC, Vivint has placed a link in the bottom right corner of its homepage where someone can make a report if they think a Vivint account was opened without their consent.

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