How many times have you received a card saying the following: “You are guaranteed to have one at least one of the four prizes listed below. All you have to do is call us at 1-900-YOU WIN?” And how many times have you been tempted to call?
Scam artists prey on the old, weak, poor, and those with poor credit — typically those individuals who are looking for the big windfall to save them from themselves.
A whole new generation of credit scams has been making its way across the U.S., and the Federal Trade Commission is fighting back through education and new, tougher laws. In a recently released booklet, “Getting Back in the Black,” the FTC identifies some of the more popular scams and lets you know how you can avoid them:
- “Start Over With A New Credit Identity.” If you’ve filed for bankruptcy, you may receive a letter from a credit repair company that falsely warns you about your inability to get credit cards, personal loans or other types of credit for up to 10 years. For a fee, the company promises to help you hide your bankruptcy and establish a new credit identify to use when you apply for credit.
It sounds wonderful. Throw away your old, bruised credit history and start fresh: no record of late payments, unpaid medical bills, bankruptcy filings.
If you pay the fee and sign up for the service, you may be directed to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service. Typically EINs, which have exactly the same number of digits as your social security number, are used by businesses to report financial information to the IRS and Social Security Administration.
After you have the EIN, the credit repair service will tell you to use it in place of your Social Security number when you apply for credit, along with a new mailing address and some fake credit references.
The problem is that credit segregation is illegal. It is a federal crime to make any false statements on a loan or credit application. It is a crime to misrepresent your social security information. The FTC says you could face a prison sentence. Plus, if you continue to work under your new EIN instead of your social security number, when you go to apply for social security, you may find that you don’t qualify.
- “Guaranteed loans — if you pay us.” No matter how bad your credit is, there’s a legitimate lender out there who is more than willing to give you a home loan. It’s just that instead of paying the going rate of about 8 percent for a 30-year fixed rate loan, you might pay 20 percent.
But when someone calls you and offers to guarantee a loan if you cough up anywhere from $100 to $7,000, that’s someone you should hang up on.
According to the FTC’s telemarketing sales rule, if someone guarantees or suggests they can get or arrange for a loan or other form of credit for you, they cannot ask you to pay — or accept payment — until you receive your loan or credit.
That’s a important piece of information most people don’t know, especially since we’re conditioned to pay for many things before we get them, like mail order clothing.
While the guaranteed loan scam won’t put you behind bars, it could cost you in money and embarrassment. In fact, the FTC says personal pride is one reason they catch so few of the estimated 1,000 scam artists operating in the US today. Most people swallow their loss and never tell a soul what happened.
- “Have We Got a Gold Card For You.” When American Express came out with their Gold and Platinum cards years ago, they instantly became a status symbol, so much so that Visa and MasterCard came out with competing products.
Scam artists promise you that by buying their gold or platinum card, you will be able to get a major credit card (such as an unsecured Visa or MasterCard), lines of credit from national specialty and department stores, and better credit reports.
What you really get is a secured credit card that requires a substantial security deposit with a bank. In addition, many of these companies do not report their credit information to major credit reporting bureaus, so it’s as if you never had the card in the first place.
Once you agree to take the card, you usually have to pay a fee of $50. Once you receive the card, you have to pay an additional sum to receive the promised merchandise catalogs (where, you can only buy things with your special gold or platinum card). You also many have to pay an annual or monthly fee to keep the card. If you try to cancel the card without paying all the fees they’ve charged you, they often report that non-payment to the national credit bureaus which may further worsen your credit problems.
- “Anyone Can Qualify For A Major Credit Card. Bad Credit? No Credit? No Problem!” The secured credit card marketing scam is similar to the gold and platinum card scams. You pay for a card that is of little or no use to rebuilding your credit and may not be accepted by regular stores.
Scam artists will have you call a “900” number, which charges a fee directly to your telephone bill, and they require your security deposit, application, and processing fees. Add that up, and you could be out a serious amount of cash.
You don’t need to pay for this kind of card. Even if you have terrible credit, after six months of working to clean it up, you should be able to get a secured card from a reputable bank on your own.
The required savings deposit for a secured card may range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Your “credit limit” is anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of your deposit. Typically, a secured card requires an annual fee and has a higher interest rate than an unsecured card.
Where To Go:
If you’ve been the victim of a credit scam, the only way to help is to report the crime. You can report a credit repair company to your local consumer affairs office or your state attorney general. You may also contact the FTC (Correspondence Branch, FTC, Washington, DC 20580). The National Fraud Information Center also accepts consumer complaints. Call toll free at 800-876-7060 or http://www.fraud.org on the Internet.
For more information, request a copy of "Best Sellers," a complete list of the FTC’s consumer and business publications (202-326-2222 or at http://www.ftc.gov on the Internet). For a free copy of "Getting Back In The Black," published by the FTC in conjunction with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Chicago and the Better Business Bureau, call toll free 888-527-DEBT.