FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER
En español | 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 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 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.
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 Negative data can be deleted if it is proven to be incorrect or out of date.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. For example, 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.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), one Texas company told consumers it could boost their credit scores by up to 200 points in a matter of weeks using "advanced disputing" techniques that included filing false claims that black marks on customers' credit resulted from identity theft. Charging customers up to $1,500 a pop, the firm allegedly collected more than $9 million before the FTC secured a court order halting its operations in March.
- 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. Through the end of 2022, you can get one free credit report a week from each of the three national reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
- 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 IRS for an Employer Identification Number 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.
Updated March 24, 2022
About the Fraud Watch Network
Whether you have been personally affected by scams or fraud or are interested in learning more, the AARP Fraud Watch Network advocates on your behalf and equips you with the knowledge you need to feel more informed and confidently spot and avoid scams.
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