By the end of 2007, Americans owed more than $915 billion in credit card debt, and the credit crunch is clearly impacting consumers as lenders are becoming more choosey about who gets loans and who doesn’t. Given, stricter loan and credit requirements, Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning that some companies are using the credit crunch to take advantage of consumers by promising bogus credit repair services that can be costly and in some cases illegal.
Complaints to BBB about credit repair companies have risen for three straight years, topping more than 1,400 in 2006 – a 38 percent increase since 2004. More than 400 of those complaints were not resolved, meaning BBB was not able to track down the company or the company refused to take steps to resolve the issue with the consumer.
“With the economy slowing and lenders becoming increasingly picky, many people are looking for fast, easy ways to fix or even erase damage to their credit history” said Steve Cox, spokesperson for the BBB. “People need to be very careful when searching for or using a credit repair agency. In some cases consumers are being charged for work they could have done on their own for free, and in the worst case scenarios, consumers are unwittingly encouraged to engage in illegal activities.”
Offers for miraculous credit repair are common in radio, television, newspaper and direct mail advertising. The Internet is home to countless credit repair sharks, some requiring consumers pay large fees upfront – upwards of $1,500 – and in return may promise to erase any blemishes on credit records, get new Social Security numbers for clients, or allow consumers to piggyback on someone else’s credit record.
BBB is counseling consumers that the truth is, no one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report, that it’s nearly impossible to get a new Social Security number, and that piggybacking on someone else’s credit can be construed as loan fraud.
Consumer Reports notes that Americans find nearly 13 million inaccuracies on their credit reports each year. With millions of inaccuracies in credit reports, BBB encourages all consumers to check their reports. Everyone is entitled to a free copy of their report from all three credit reporting bureaus every year or if they have been denied credit within the last 30 days (go to: www.AnnualCreditReport.com).
The law does allow an individual to request reinvestigation of information in their file that they feel is inaccurate or incomplete, and there is no charge for this process. BBB is reminding people that everything a credit repair company can do for them legally, people can do for themselves at little or no cost.
If consumers seek or respond to a credit repair offer they need to be aware that, by law, credit repair organizations must provide a copy of the “Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law.” This one-page document outlines the consumer’s rights in disputing inaccurate information on their credit report, and also addresses consumers’ rights in dealing with credit repair companies. A key point is that consumers have the right to cancel a contract with any credit repair organization for any reason within three business days from the date the contract was signed by the consumer.
Companies must also provide a written contract that spells out the consumer’s rights and obligations. BBB advises anyone using a credit repair service to read these documents carefully before signing anything. BBB also suggests consumers beware of companies that:
• Do not tell you your legal rights and what you can do – legally – for free;
• Recommend that you not contact a credit bureau directly;
• Want you to pay for credit repair services before any services are provided;
• Advise you to dispute all information in your credit report;
• Take any action that seems illegal, such as creating a new credit identity by obtaining a federal employer identification number to use instead of a social security number;
• Offer to let you “piggyback” on other consumer’s good credit.
Before contacting a credit repair service, consumers can check them out first with BBB by easily accessing BBB Reliability Reports free of charge at www.bbb.org.
For consumers with serious credit problems, Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS) are available for a low fee or, in some cases, for free. Some of the services provided may include working out a payment plan with lenders, as well as guidance and advice to help consumers make more financially sound decisions in the future. To find the nearest CCCS office, call toll-free, 800-388-2227, or go to: www.nfcc.org.
For additional advice and information you can trust on credit repair and personal finance, visit BBB on the Web at: www.bbb.org.