Don't lose your identity

7 June 2012

Don't you just hate it when you answer the phone and the voice at the other end says, "Who's that?" Oh, excuse me. I think you'll find you phoned me; you have intruded into my home and I rather think it's incumbent on you to identify yourself before demanding to know who I am. Which you should know anyway, since you phoned me.

The "Who's that?" caller is rather like the street chugger who tries to open your wallet by asking, "Do you care about children?" Do you mind? We haven't even met; you're making the impudent assumption that me caring about children will have a direct causal effect on me having to support your cause – and, anyway, it's none of your damn business.

Or they're like those annoying friends at boarding school who shook you by the shoulder in bed and asked, "Are you asleep?" So it is with the "Who's that?" caller. It's all in the wrong order, this making a phone call and asking who's at the other end. But then after I've done my best Roger Moore "Now suppose you tell me who you are first", it turns out to be some sweet old lady and I feel really bad.

No identity

Anyway, here's my point: when anyone in the financial services industry - a credit agency, a bank selling loans, an insurance salesperson, Fagan looking for a pickpocket – calls and asks you for ID, just say, "I'm sorry, but I'll have to ask you for some ID first," or "I'll just need to ask you some security questions first - what's the capital of Ecuador?"

There will be silence on the other end of the phone, as if something's exploded in their head. Everything's the wrong way round, you see. Then they will hang up. It's very satisfying.

It's particularly fun with those who chase debts that the banks have invented and then sold on: "I'm sorry, if you can't prove who you are I'm not allowed to talk to you." But that's not all, because there's more of this column and I obviously haven't finished yet. They've now taken to sending letters and, I dare say, emails.

And this is where it gets a bit more serious. In recent weeks, I've received a couple of mailings telling me that I'm owed money and the sender can get it for me. All I have to do is provide some proof of identity. And I don't even think they're sent from Nigeria.

Based on trust

The first purports to be from Equitable Life Payment Scheme, "set up by HM Government" – no logo, dodgy indecipherable signature – saying that I "have been identified as due a payment under the Equitable Life Payment Scheme", but first, "for your security, we need to see documents confirming your identity and address".

Now, my identity may not be worth much, but it's mine and I don't want it stolen. So I phoned the Glasgow number and a nice man answered. I told him I needed him to see documents confirming his identity and address. He said he couldn't do that. So I have to take him on trust, but he can't do the same?

The other one is a bit different. ProSearch writes to tell me that "as a former shareholder of Friends Provident" I'm owed £648.65. It can get it for me, for 10% (plus VAT).

What annoys me about this is, if ProSearch can find me, why can't Friends Provident, which owes me the money and could give it to me without someone charging me a fee for the pleasure? And, of course, I have to give ProSearch my phone number, so it can sell it on to others who will phone me up and ask me to identify myself.

I'd tell them to go away, but they have the money and I don't. So I have to sell them my identity, and they will pay for it with my money.

Reverend George Pitcher is a former industrial editor of the Observer and religion editor of the Daily Telegraph. He is an Anglican priest at St Bride’s, Fleet Street. Email him at


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