FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER
A poor credit history can be a real hindrance for people trying to recover from financial setbacks and getting behind on bills. Scammers exploit that vulnerability with phony promises of a quick credit fix.
You may have seen ads in newspapers, on TV or online offering to fix whatever credit woes you might have, or received a mailer or phone call making a similar pitch. Shady companies will claim they can remove bankruptcies, liens and bad loans from your record, or even erase a bad credit history completely, helping you start over with a new credit identity that will make you look like a better risk to lenders. One such outfit falsely asserted it had Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approval to promise that it could boost a client’s credit score to 700 in 120 days or less.
The fact is that no one can remove bad information from your credit report if it is correct and timely. If a debt, bankruptcy or other item was accurately reported, it stays on your credit record for up to 10 years. Negative data can be deleted if it is proven to be incorrect or out of date.
Legitimate credit-repair firms say they know how to navigate the complexities of credit reporting to find and fix those errors. But they can’t legally do anything you couldn’t do yourself, for little or no cost: file disputes with the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) about negative items, in hopes that investigation will show them to be wrong.
Bogus credit-repair companies resort to illegal tactics, or use the promise of cleaned-up credit to lure you into committing crimes yourself, like fraud or identity theft. They may offer to sell you a new Social Security number to use in applying for loans. The number was probably stolen, possibly from a child, and using it could send you to prison.
Crooks might also offer you an alternative nine-digit number called a CPN (credit privacy number or credit profile number), or direct you to falsely obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service. Using one of those can get you in legal trouble, too.
And the scammers will charge you a hefty amount for such dangerous advice. One outfit that was put out of business by the FTC in 2019 allegedly bilked consumers out of more than $6.2 million since at least 2014 and threatened lawsuits against those who dared to complain.
- A credit-repair company says it can get bad debt off your credit record, guarantee a better credit score or give you “a new credit identity.”
- The company tells you to give false information on loan applications.
- The company urges you to dispute information in your credit report that you know is accurate.
- The company tells you not to contact the credit bureaus yourself.
- Do regularly check your credit history. You can get one free credit report a year from each of the three major credit bureaus.
- Do dispute inaccurate information by contacting the credit bureaus directly.
- Do know your rights when it comes to credit repair. The federal Credit Repair Organization Act requires companies to give you a written contract that spells out the services it will perform, what you’ll pay and how long it will take to get results.
- Do remember that there’s no legitimate quick fix for poor credit. Improving your record takes time and effort, and requires sticking to a personal plan to pay off your debts, the FTC says.
- Do consider contacting a reputable credit counseling organization instead of going to a credit-repair firm. Credit counselors can help you create a plan to manage your debts and develop a budget you can stick to.
- Don’t sign up with a credit-repair company that insists upon payment before it does any work on your case.
- Don’t trust companies that are secretive about their methods or claim they alone can fix your credit problems.
- Don’t follow instructions to lie on a credit or loan application. It’s a crime that could result in fines or a prison term.
- Don’t follow advice to apply to the Internal Revenue Service for an EIN to use as a substitute for your Social Security number when you apply for credit. Obtaining an EIN under false pretenses is a crime.
- If you suspect you’ve been scammed by a credit-repair company, report it to:
- Use the authorized site AnnualCreditReport.com to order free copies of your reports from the three major credit bureaus.
- Contact the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling online or at 800-388-2227 for referral to a reputable credit counselor.
- The CFPB offers advice on deciding whether to use a credit-repair company and steps you can take on your own to improve your credit.
Published: December 5, 2019
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