Consumer Protection
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How to Protect Yourself: Credit Repair Scams
Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office

"Credit Problems? NO problem ..."

"We can erase your bad credit! 100% guaranteed."

"We can remove bankruptcies, judgments, liens, and bad loans from your credit file, FOREVER!"

"Create a new credit identity - Legally!"

Do yourself a favor and save some money, too. Don’t believe these statements. Credit repair companies typically charge from $50 and up, but often do little or nothing for you before vanishing. If you are considering taking steps to improve your credit report, please consider the following:

Accurate Negative Credit Information Can Not Be Erased
If a credit repair company tells you that it will be able to remove negative information from your credit report, the company is not telling you the truth. Accurate information which is within seven years of the reporting period, or ten years if the information relates to a bankruptcy, cannot be erased from a credit report. The only information that can be changed are items which are actually wrong, or are beyond the seven or ten year reporting date. If you have a poor credit history, time is the only thing that will heal your credit report.

Hiding Bad Credit May Be Illegal
Some credit repair schemes promise you that they can "hide" bad credit by helping you to establish a new credit identity. If you pay a fee for such a service, the company may direct you to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service, and to use the EIN in place of your social security number when you apply for credit. You may also be instructed to use a new mailing address. This practice, known as file segregation, is a federal crime.

How To Clean Up Your Credit Report Yourself
The truth is, you can help yourself re-build a better credit record. Start by contacting your creditors when you realize that you cannot make scheduled payments. If you need help working out a payment plan and a budget, contact your local credit counseling service. These non-profit groups offer credit guidance to consumers, and their services are available at little or no cost to you. Also, check with your employer, credit union, or housing authority for other no-cost credit counseling programs. Anything a credit repair company can do, you can do on your own. Contact a local credit bureau and request a copy of your credit report. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you've been denied credit, insurance or employment and request the report within 60 days of notice, or if you can prove that (1) you're unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days, (2) you're on welfare, or (3) your report is inaccurate because of fraud. Otherwise, the credit bureaus may charge you a small fee for a copy of your credit report. Review your credit report for mistakes and outdated information - anything beyond the seven or ten year reporting period. If there are mistakes, contact the credit bureau and request a dispute form. The form is available at no charge. Then submit the form with any supporting documentation which provides as much information as possible about the inaccurate information. The bureau must reinvestigate the matter, and delete or correct any information which they are unable to verify. If the dispute still exists, you can file a written explanation, which the credit bureau must include in your credit report.

Other facts you should know:

Bankruptcy information can be reported for 10 years

Information about a lawsuit or judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.

Information reported because of an application for a job with a salary of more than $75,000 has no time limit.

Information reported because of an application for more than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance has no time limit.

Research The Companies
Contact the local consumer agencies in the county where the company is located, or Attorney General's Office to determine if there are complaints or legal actions pending against the company. Do not rely on Chambers of Commerce or other associations where membership is based solely on payment of a fee. You also may contact the Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TDD, 202-326-2502.