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On the surface, it would seem crazy for someone to write a post complaining about having a $556 credit balance on your cell phone bill, but that's exactly what I'm about to do.  See, I have a $556 balance on our Sprint account and I am not at all happy about it.

A suspicious text message that was all too real

mb-cellphone201302My wife has the primary line on our Sprint account, and she called me up one day to tell me that she had gotten a text message saying that it was from Sprint indicating that they had detected a potential fraudulent activity on our account and gave a number to call back.  She passed along the number asking me to see if it was real and to handle the situation.

I did a reverse search on the number and found that it was in fact a real number tied back to Sprint's Fraud department.  I called the number and passed along the information we had received on the text, and they pulled up our account.

The person asked if we had purchased an iPad earlier that morning.

I told her that no, we had not ordered an iPad.  She proceeded to tell me that someone had ordered an iPad through our online access using our account information.  It was flagged because their system has a trigger that alerts them when the item is shipped to another state.  In our case, we live in Michigan and the iPad was set to be delivered to Virgina Beach.

Once I confirmed that this was in fact a transaction that was a fraud, the rep proceeded to cancel the shipment of the order, and also wiped out all of our online account information.  She then walked me through setting up access with all new credentials: new username, new password, new recovery PIN.  It was as if we were being setup as brand new customers.

How it happened: It was at this point that it occurred to me how this likely happened.  Earlier in 2012, I wrote about how our e-mail account had been hacked, and noted that the account in question had a password that I'd not bothered to change in years.  Unfortunately, I was guilty (as probably are many) of having the same password across multiple accounts.  I also had the same username for the e-mail account and my Sprint account.  My guess is that the hacker tried the username / password combo that had previously worked on my e-mail across common sites.  My fault, and I have since changed every single password for online access, and have it so that virtually every account has a unique password, so even if one were to be compromised, they would not get in with the same password on another site.

But, after I got set up with new account information, I logged in to test access with my brand new credentials.  I saw that I had a credit balance of $556 and inquired why this was there.

The rep told me that the person who ordered the iPad had paid using a credit card (most likely stolen, as she pointed out).  I asked when that would be removed and she told me that the account holder of the credit card would most likely see the charge, have it reversed, and that it would be taken off my account then.

I was kind of stunned by this and asked if they couldn't just reverse the charge to the credit card.  She said that they could not.

Well, that was over two months ago.  And, I still have a credit balance on my account.

I have no idea what this means.

Does this mean that the hacker got a hold of a credit card where someone actually paid the balance?  I find it hard to believe that this big of a charge would go unnoticed, but it was around the holidays, and if they got a hold of a card where there's a big number of transactions, maybe it just got paid.

Could the cardholder have seen the charge and is currently going through a dispute process?  I have no idea how long that typically takes in a case like this, but I would have to guess it would be a lot faster than two months plus.

Could the person who ‘stole' the credit card possibly have diverted the statements elsewhere, or opened a card in someone elses name?  If this is the case, it could take months before this is even noticed, and I would have to guess quite a bit more time to get sorted out.

Either way, it boggles my mind that Sprint's answer to the whole problem is basically to do nothing.  They showed no interest in contacting the cardholder's bank (and obviously they wouldn't tell me any of those details).  They showed no interest in placing the money in some escrow account or something so they know it's being dealt with.

Oh, but they did advise me to continue paying my bill, warning me that once the charges got reversed, that I would be charged late fees and such if my balance suddenly went up.

For me, that was sort of a ‘duh' moment.  I have paid my bill every month, watching the balance go from a credit of around $356 back to a credit balance of $556.

Quite honestly, I would be happy if it were zero.

It makes me wonder, at a certain point what happens to that money if it never gets taken away?  What if I were to close the account when the contracts for all lines were fulfilled?  Would they cut me a check for $556? What if the charge got disputed following that?  Would I suddenly be turned over to collections?

These are not questions I really want to deal with, and while some may see a $556 credit in their account as a potential positive, I see nothing but a headache.  And, as my title suggests, I find it pretty shady about how Sprint handled the entire thing.  As soon as they noticed a fraud that could impact them, since they'd be out an iPad, they were all over getting that stopped.  Which, I have no issue with.

Where I have an issue is that when it came to the portion of the transaction that could potentially impact a third party (the card holder of the credit card used to ‘pay' for the transaction), they could not care any less.

Readers, what do you do in a circumstance like this especially if months pass and this does not go away?