Consumers' interest in their credit scores, and their credit in general, is yet another hook for those running scams. Whether it's to get you to pay for things you shouldn't, get your personal information or steal your identity, scams involving credit scores and information from the three credit bureaus can easily be avoided.
"The key here is a hefty dose of skepticism," said Jean Chatzky, personal finance expert for NBC's Today show.
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Crooked companies seem to prey on people who seek an expedited path to remedying bad credit and low credit scores, she said.
"The only thing that will move your credit history (and therefore your score) in the right direction is a combination of good behavior and time," she said.
Clearly, there are legitimate sites that offer your credit score for free (likeWisePiggy.com) and others that charge a fee that are not scams. It's seeing the difference between the real ones and the slimy ones that's key.
Credit expert John Ulzheimer, who works for CreditSesame.com, notes that a lot the shady sites are built around confusing consumers. One way they do it is to capitalize on the good reputations of legitimate sites, and use website names that might add a single letter or use a common misspelling, like, say, WisePiggie.
"This kind of redirection of online traffic is a huge problem," Ulzheimer said. "Consumers who are expecting something free are getting roped into fee-based products and services and when they find out they're being charged a few months down the road they believe the legitimate site was scamming them, when in reality they misspelled the URL and ended up at a squatter site."
Ulzheimer offered a tip that should help avoid you any site that's ultimately going to cost you money, particularly when you're not expecting to pay anything.
"If you believe you're going to a site where you're going to get something for free there's a very simple way to ensure as much. If you are asked for a credit card or any other method of payment then you're not at a free credit report or free credit score site, period," Ulzheimer said. "The legitimate free sites do not ask for any method of payment. The reason you're being asked for a credit card number is because you're likely being signed up for a trial membership in a credit monitoring service."
That's just the sort of trap that consumers should avoid because they're designed to not just get you one time, but over and over again.
"That trial will likely expire in a ridiculously short period of time, as short as seven days in some cases," Ulzheimer said. "Once that trial membership has expired your card will be charged a monthly fee until you cancel the service."
The other angle these sites go for is to get consumers to willingly pay money by convincing them that their credit challenges can be overcome in a far easier way than realistically is possible.
"They tap into people's desire to easily or quickly fulfill a certain need," said personal finance expert Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, who is known as The Money Coach. "The person with bad credit who all of a sudden wants to get a mortgage, a credit card or a student loan is potentially the easiest target for shady or questionable credit score operators."
Seeing someone is vulnerable, she said, makes them a target for the idea that a solution is available, even for a steep price. And that's done by deception.
"They often make unrealistic claims about the speed with which they can produce results or the tremendous impact their work will have," Khalfani-Cox said. "People should stop and ask themselves, 'Does this sound too good to be true? Is it really possible that this guy, or woman, can really eliminate all the negative items on my credit report in just seven days or turn my 500 FICO score into a 700 score by the end of the month?'"
As appealing as the ideas are, they have to be met with skepticism, she said.
And it's particularly important to turn away from any offer to cleanse your credit report as a means of improving your credit score, said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the National Consumers League.
"Typical credit-repair scams involve promises to remove negative information from your credit reports, or create new, unblemished credit reports for you by using an employer tax ID number (EIN) or a CPN (the initials for made-up "credit profile number" or "credit privacy number") instead of your Social Security number," she said. "The hallmark of these scams, as with scams in general, is the request for payment upfront. In fact, it's against federal law for anyone offering to repair your credit record to ask for payment before they have achieved what they promised you. And you must be given a written contract at the onset that describes the services, the cost, and any guarantee of success."
Plus, Grant said, no one can just make legitimate credit report issues go away.
"The truth is that no one can remove negative information from your credit report, it's illegal to obtain an EIN under false pretenses, a CPN doesn't exist, and, if you are provided with a stolen Social Security number to use, which sometimes happens, that could also land you in hot water," she said.
This article originally appeared on WisePiggy.
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