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Unfortunately, some of the outstretched hands offering help with credit repair may actually belong to operators of scam companies.
Here are a few red flags that can indicate you’ve come across a credit repair scam:
Fees for illegal services
Companies running credit repair scams sometimes require monthly service fees or charge exorbitant amounts, occasionally telling you to pay them directly instead of making payments to your creditors. Others offer the idea of a “new credit identity” that, for a fee, supposedly hides your bad credit history or bankruptcy.
If you pay that fee, the fraudulent credit repair company may provide you with a nine-digit number that looks like a Social Security number and that is often referred to as a CPN (which stands for “credit profile number” or “credit privacy number”). But the CPN may actually be a Social Security number the company has stolen from someone else.
In other cases, the fraudulent company will suggest that you apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This is a legitimate number used by businesses to report to the IRS, but it is not a substitute for a Social Security number.
The phony credit repair company may then ask that you apply for credit using one of these numbers. Unfortunately, if you use either the CPN or EIN, the fraudsters may have involved you in identity theft, which could leave you facing fines or even time in prison according to the FTC.
What to do if you’ve been scammed
Legitimate credit repair organizations operate under the watchful eye of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which requires that these organizations explain your legal rights to you in a written contract. This contract details the services they’ll perform, how long it will take to get results, the costs involved, and any guarantees.
If you believe that you’ve been scammed by a credit repair scheme, there are a few things you can do. Many states have laws regulating credit repair companies that accompany the federal laws. Report your experience to your local consumer affairs office or the state attorney general, and file a report with your local police department.
You can also file a complaint with the FTC by submitting your police report along with a completed FTC Identity Theft Affidavit. These two items make up your Identity Theft Report. The FTC can’t help individuals resolve their credit issues, but it can take action against a company that has a history of violating the law.
If you believe you’ve been scammed, consider purchasing an identity monitoring product. These products will alert you to any changes made to your credit file so you have a chance to mitigate the impact of an identity theft before it spreads.
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