Tag Archives: Credit Counseling Fraud

Score one for the good guys: “Rachel From Cardholder Services” has left the building

Have you ever gotten one (or a couple thousand) of those robocalls where “Rachel From Cardholder Services” tells you to press “1” to lower the interest rate on all your credit cards?

If you pressed “1” instead of hanging up the phone in disgust, you were connected to a telemarketer who would attempt to scam you out of a couple thousand dollars in up-front fees. If you pressed “2,” you were supposedly removed from the call list. Of course, Rachel would still call back a few weeks later because pressing “2” did absolutely nothing.

It turns out there were five companies running this scam, and the FTC has now officially brought charges against them. These companies have violated a whole slumgullion of federal regulations. In other words, Rachel From Cardholder Services won’t be calling anymore.

I never liked her anyway.

Anyway, there’s an article over at the Consumerist that goes into more detail.

Do credit repair companies work?

You see the advertisements on the Internet, in your inbox and even on television; “We can fix your bad credit!” All that negative stuff on your credit report—gone in a flash. These companies know how to take your hot mess of a credit report and turn it into a bright, shiny, new credit report with no negative information.

Fine. Dandy. Except that no, they can’t.

First, let’s get our definitions straight: there is credit counseling and credit repair. The first can be a legitimate way to fix the situation you’re in. The fact that you’re in credit counseling shows up as a negative hit on your credit report and will lower your score for a while, but when you’re in over your head, it’s probably worth it.

The second one is basically a sham.

You see, while the Fair Credit Reporting Act gives consumers the right to challenge (and ultimately have removed) inaccurate or outdated items on their credit reports, information that is timely and accurate stays. There is no “secret” method to getting it removed; if you defaulted on a credit card two years ago, that’s going to haunt you for a while. If you’re staying afloat but have a massive amount of debt racked up, that’s going to show up on your report. There’s no way around it.

In other words, any company that’s promising to erase your bad credit history is scamming you.

However, that doesn’t mean your credit can’t be repaired. The thing is, you have to take the initiative to do it yourself, and it takes time—several years, in some cases.

This may not be the answer you wanted, but it’s the only true answer.

So how do you repair your bad credit on your own? First, pay off everything you owe. Don’t take on new debt if you can avoid it. If you have to take on some debt, pay it on time, every time. Visit a credit union, too—many offer small “payday alternative” loans that make those Payday Loans look like the rip-off they are. These loans are for small amounts, with very low interest rates and easy repayment terms. You’ll probably have to verify employment to show you can and will repay the loan—this is why credit unions weren’t a part or cause of Economic Crash-N-Burn ’08—they generally only gave loans to people who could handle them. REGIONAL calls its version of this loan the Step Up Loan, by the way.

At any rate, showing that you can repay a small payday alternative loan will help you re-establish your credit history and start to swing the pendulum back towards “good credit.”

Okay, I know…Dave Ramsey says that all debt is bad debt, so he’d probably bristle at my mentioning this route towards rebuilding your credit. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to not owe anyone and be able to buy most things with cash. However, you’re probably not going to hit that “able to buy a house with a briefcase full of C-notes” point for several years. In the meantime, you’re going to need to rebuild your credit so you can borrow a little here and there. And heck, if you can operate without credit once you’ve got your old debts paid off, more power to you. But let’s stay grounded in the here-and-now reality of most people for the moment.

If you’re at the point where your debts and bad credit are overwhelming, it may be time to call in a good credit counseling agency. Just be sure to remember these points:

  1. Only use credit counseling services that are not-for-profit
  2. Never pay a credit counseling service up front
  3. Make sure the agency is Better Business Bureau accredited
  4. Make sure they have an A or A+ rating from the BBB
  5. Remember that it takes time and effort on your part to fix your credit; there are no free rides.

Misleading credit counseling advertisements on television

I just saw what may have been the sleaziest credit counseling commercial I’ve ever seen.

It appeared on the Weather Channel around 2:30 PM local time (I was watching Full Force Nature; they had some really killer close-up tornado footy).  Now, sleazy ads during daytime television are nothing new, but this one was incredible.

It began with footage of the President giving an address about the economy. I don’t know the date or specific topic of the speech—I know he used the phrase “drastic action.” This was framed by graphics designed to closely emulate the look of a broadcast from a cable news channel. There was a headline at the bottom of the screen about debt counseling, with a ticker underneath that, the kind they normally use to give up-to-the-minute stock prices.

After the (out-of-context) presidential clip, it cut to a woman in front of a photo of either the White House or the Capital Building. She was dressed in a sharp suit like a news anchor, and was telling you to call now for information on debt elimination. The headline and ticker remained at the bottom of the screen. If you weren’t paying close attention, you might easily mistake it for a genuine news item. Naturally, the color scheme of the ad was red, white and blue.

Of course, it wasn’t real. Consider these facts:

  1. Real news broadcasts don’t tell you to call a toll-free number for information on debt counseling
  2. The government does not endorse any such service, nor did it create the advertisement
  3. The President did not create or approve the ad, nor does he endorse any such service
  4. Anyone can create a TV commercial using cheap graphics and public domain footage and, as long as they purchase the time, have it run on television
  5. Ads that run during daytime television are created under the assumption that you are jobless, directionless, desperate and not very intelligent. In other words, they’re insulting. Take them with a massive grain of salt.

I didn’t catch the name of the company, but I wish I had. I’d gladly post it here, along with their BBB rating and the advice to not use their services. If I catch the commercial again, I’ll make note of this information. If it is a legitimate, non-profit counseling service, they need to be told that their advertisements are misleading and unbecoming. If they’re not, they need to be called out on it and run out of business.

There are real, non-profit credit counseling services available for those who need them. REGIONAL has a relationship with Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Northwest Indiana. They’ve got an excellent BBB rating.

If you’re in a different area, start with the Better Business Bureau, and don’t use any service with anything less than an A rating.