Beware of Credit-Repair Scams

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Financial Education Services (FES) has bilked people out of more than $213 million with a scheme that combines charging people for worthless credit repair services and recruiting them to sell the same bogus services to others.  FES also does business as United Wealth Services.

FES claims it can boost people’s credit scores by hundreds of points quickly by permanently removing negative information from their credit reports and adding positive information. But the FTC says FES’s services accomplish little or nothing. For example, FES sends clients form letters to send to credit bureaus to dispute negative items, but the letters don’t include supporting documents so they rarely result in removal of the items.

The complaint says FES charges people $99 up front for its services, plus up to $89 each month. It’s illegal for a credit repair company to charge people before fully performing the services it promises. Also, the complaint alleges, FES doesn’t give people important information they’re entitled to by law, including written information about the total cost of its services and its refund and cancellation policies.

According to the complaint, FES also pressures people to become FES “agents,” telling them they can make tens of thousands of dollars a month selling FES services to other consumers and recruiting them to become FES agents themselves. But, the FTC says, FES’s purported business opportunity requires its agents to pay hundreds of dollars to join and advance in the business. And, the FTC alleges, in classic pyramid scheme style, FES incentivizes recruiting new agents over selling credit repair services. The complaint charges that few people, if any, make the income promised, and many lose money as FES agents.

If you want to repair your credit, Fixing Your Credit FAQs has information about building your credit and spotting scams. And, if you’re thinking about investing in a business that requires you to recruit other investors, read this information about spotting a pyramid scheme.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of the legal steps to take to improve their credit scores.
  • What are the legitimate resources for low-cost or no cost help to repair your credit?

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it possible for you to boost your credit score by hundreds of points quickly by permanently removing negative information from your credit reports and adding positive information?  Explain your answer.
  2. Discuss the statement: “Sometimes doing it yourself is the best way to repair your credit.”
  3. What is one of the most important step you can take to improve your credit score?

NON-OWNER CAR INSURANCE

If you don’t own a car but regularly drive a rental vehicle or another person’s car, consider non-owner car insurance. This coverage provides liability protection to pay for injuries and property damage of others in an accident. Damage to the car you are driving or your injuries are usually not covered. In some states, you may also obtain coverage for uninsured/underinsured motorist protection and medical payment for your injuries. 

Recommended situations for non-owner car insurance include:

  • ·         When using a car-sharing service, such as Zipcar or Turo.
  • ·         To maintain continuous coverage between selling your car and buying a new one.
  • ·         If you frequently rent cars.
  • ·        If you frequently borrow other people’s cars, especially if you want a higher level of coverage than that of the vehicle’s owner.
  • ·         When obtaining or reinstating a driver’s license, some states require insurance to show “proof of financial responsibility.”

If you frequently borrow a car from someone in your household, non-owner insurance is not recommended.  Instead, you should be included as a covered driver since all driving-age household members may be required to be listed on the policy. If you drive rarely, buy insurance when renting a car or you may be covered on the policy of the person whose car you borrow, if driving with their permission.  

To obtain non-owner car insurance, directly contact an insurance company or agent. Most insurers don’t provide non-owner quotes online. Non-owner car insurance usually has a lower cost than the same liability coverage if you owned a car.

For additional information on non-owner car insurance, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students contact an insurance agent to obtain rate information for non-owner car insurance.
  • Have students create a visual (poster or slide presentation) describing situations in which non-owner car insurance might be appropriate.

Discussion Questions 

  1. When might non-owner car insurance be of value to a driver?
  2. Describe actions people might take to determine if they have adequate auto insurance coverage.  

Managing your credit report

The three nationwide consumer reporting agencies–Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian–will provide one free credit report every 12 months if you request it. As a result of a 2019 settlement, all U.S. consumers may also request up to six free copies of their Equifax credit report during any twelve-month period through December 31, 2026. These free copies will be provided to you in addition to any free reports to which you are entitled under federal law.

If you run into difficulty getting your free Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian annual credit report(s) from AnnualCreditReport.com or its toll-free phone number, try contacting the respective institution(s) directly for help:

  • Equifax, (866) 349-5191 (Option 3)
  • TransUnion, (800) 680-7289 (Option 1)
  • Experian, (888) 397-3742 (Option 2 followed by Option1)

Freeze your report

Each of these companies offers you the option to freeze your report with them if you request it. By law each must freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free if you request it. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. If you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.

Free Credit Monitoring for Military

Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian provide free credit monitoring services to active duty service members and to National Guard members, by visiting the active military web pages of each company.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or their families have requested their credit report(s) recently.  If so, what was their experience?
  • Ask the students to make a list of circumstances that will lead them to freeze their credit reports.  When should they consider unfreezing reports?

Discussion Questions

  1. When might it be necessary to freeze or unfreeze credit reports for children who are under 16 years of age?
  2. Should federal government require nation’s credit reporting agencies to provide free credit reports to consumers?   Explain your answer.

DON’T KEEP THESE THINGS IN YOUR WALLET

While no one plans to lose their wallet, you can reduce the trauma of that event. Consumer protection experts recommend not keeping these items in your wallet:

  • your Social Security card; also make sure nothing else in your wallet contains your Social Security number.
  • a list of passwords; keep the list secured at home, and consider use of a password manager.
  • spare keys; a lost wallet with keys and your home address on an ID card is an invitation to burglars.
  • blank checks; while few people write checks, blank checks are risky as a thief has your account number and the bank routing numbers and probably your home address. 
  • your passport or passport card; an identity thief could travel under your name, obtain a copy of your Social Security card, or open a bank account. Whenever traveling on a passport, keep a copy in a safe place.
  • extra credit cards; carry only one or two cards to avoid having to cancel many cards if your wallet is lost or stolen.
  • other items to keep out of your wallet: birth certificate; receipts that could be used to by skilled identity thieves; an old Medicare card with your Social Security number; and gift cards, which could be used by anyone with access to your wallet.

By following these guidelines, you can avoid identity theft, bogus loan applications in your name, and someone opening fraudulent accounts. Also recommended: photocopy the front and back of the items in your wallet to have a record of what is lost or stolen.

For additional information on what not to keep in your wallet, click here:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others to determine if they carry any of these items in their wallet.
  • Have students create a checklist of action to take if your wallet is lost or stolen.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are actions people can take to avoid identity theft?
  2. Describe how technology and apps are replacing traditional wallets. Discuss how these devices might improve security against identity theft.

Protecting your credit during the coronavirus pandemic

Your credit reports and scores play an important role in your future financial opportunities. You can use the steps below to manage and protect your credit during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

Get a copy of your credit report

If you haven’t requested your free annual credit reports, you can get copies at AnnualCreditReport.com. Each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (also known as credit reporting companies) – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – allow you to get your report for free once every twelve months. You can request additional reports for a small fee if you’ve already received your free report. Be sure to check your reports for errors and dispute any inaccurate information.

If you can’t make payments, contact your lenders

Many lenders have announced proactive measures to help borrowers impacted by COVID-19. As with other natural disasters and emergencies, they may be willing to provide forbearance, loan extensions, a reduction in interest rates, and/or other flexibilities for repayment. Some lenders are also saying they will not report late payments to credit reporting agencies or waiving late fees for borrowers in forbearance due to this pandemic. If you feel you cannot make payments, contact your lenders to explain your situation and be sure to get confirmation of any agreements in writing.

Credit reporting under the CARES Act

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act places special requirements on companies that report your payment information to credit reporting companies. These requirements apply if you are affected by the coronavirus disease pandemic and if your creditor makes an agreement (called an “accommodation” in the Act) with you to defer a payment, make partial payments, forbear a delinquency, modify a loan, or other relief.

How your creditors report your account to credit reporting companies under the CARES Act depends on whether you are current or already delinquent when this agreement is made.

  • If your account is currentand you make an agreement to make a partial payment, skip a payment, or other accommodation, then the creditor is to report to credit reporting companies that you are current on your loan or account.
  • If your account is already delinquentand you make an agreement, then your account will maintain that status during the agreement until you bring the account current.
  • If your account is already delinquent and you make an agreement, and you bring your account current, the creditor must report that you are current on your loan or account.

For more information, go to: click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have requested their free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. If so, did they find any errors?  What did they learn from the credit reports?
  • Encourage students to request their credit reports if they have never obtained one from the credit reporting agencies.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to contact your creditors as soon as possible if you can’t make payments on time? What are the consequences if you don’t?
  2. What are the special requirements that the CARE Act places on companies that report your payment information to credit reporting agencies? Under what circumstances these special requirements apply?

Fake Credit Repair: Good Teton Professionals, LLC

In June 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged that two defendants, Douglas Filter and Marcio G. Andrade, using such trade names as Deletion Experts, Inquiry Busters, and Top Tradelines, used deceptive websites, unsolicited emails, and text messages to target consumers with false promises of substantially improving consumers’ credit scores by claiming to remove all negative items and hard inquiries from consumers’ credit reports.

The defendants also falsely claimed to substantially improve consumers’ credit scores by promising to add consumers as “authorized users” to other individuals’ credit accounts.  In most instances, however, the defendants were not able to substantially improve consumers’ credit scores.  The complaint also alleges that the defendants charged illegal upfront fees and failed to provide consumers with required disclosures about their credit repair services.

The defendants often used illegal remotely created checks to pay for the credit repair services they offered through telemarketing, according the FTC’s complaint.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to prepare a list of federal laws that protect consumers from operators of fake credit repair schemes.
  • What is the best advice before you sign with such companies as, Grand Teton Professionals, LLC; to repair your poor credit?

Discussion Questions

  1. What is a household to do if it is experiencing problems in paying bills, thus resulting in poor credit scores?
  2. What are your options, if you are having problems paying your bills and need help?
  3. Discuss the statement, “Only time and a conscientious effort to pay your debt in a timely manner will lead to the success of improving your credit report.”

Spoofed calls-It’s time to hang up!

If you get a call that looks like it’s from the Social Security Administration (SSA), think twice. Scammers are spoofing SSA’s 1-800 customer service number to try to get your personal information. Spoofing means that scammers can call from anywhere, but they make your caller ID show a different number – often one that looks legitimate. Here are few things you should know about these fake SSA calls.

These scam calls are happening across the nation, according to SSA: Your phone rings. Your caller ID shows that it’s the SSA calling from 1-800-772-1213. The caller says he works for the Social Security Administration and needs your personal information – like your Social Security number – to increase your benefits payments. (Or he threatens to cut off your benefits if you don’t give the information.) But it’s not really the Social Security Administration calling. Yes, it is the SSA’s real phone number, but the scammers on the phone are spoofing the number to make the call look real.

What can you do if you get one of these calls? Hang up. Remember:

  • SSA will not threaten you. Real SSA employees will never threaten you to get personal information. They also won’t promise to increase your benefits in exchange for information. If they do, it’s a scam.
  • If you have any doubt, hang up and call SSA directly. Call 1-800-772-1213 – that really is the phone number for the Social Security Administration. If you dial that number, you know who you’re getting. But remember that you can’t trust caller ID. If a call comes in from that number, you can’t be sure it’s really SSA calling.
  • If you get a spoofed call, report it. If someone calls, claiming to be from SSA and asking for information like your Social Security number, report it to SSA’s Office of Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 or https://oig.ssa.gov/report. You can also report these calls to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

For more information,click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use this blog post and the original article to

  • Help students understand that real SSA employees will never threaten you and get personal information.
  • Ask students if they or any of their friends or relatives have received a spoofed SSA call (calls)?

Discussion Questions

  1. If you are worried about a call from someone who claims to be from the SSA, what would you do?
  2. What can federal, state and local consumer protection agencies and telecommunication industry do to stop spoofed calls?

Free Credit Freezes

Security freezes, also known as credit freezes, restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Starting September 21, 2018, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. And if you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.

How will these freezes work? Contact all three of the nationwide credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you request a freeze online or by phone, the agency must place the freeze within one business day. If you request a lift of the freeze, the agency must lift it within one hour. If you make your request by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days after it gets your request. You also can lift the freeze temporarily without a fee.

Don’t confuse freezes with locks. They work in a similar way, but locks may have monthly fees. If you want a free freeze guaranteed by federal law, then opt for a freeze, not a lock.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has already placed a credit freeze or a fraud alert. If so, what has been their experience?
  • Encourage students to place a credit freeze since it is now free to freeze or unfreeze their credit file.

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be the advantages or disadvantages of placing a credit freeze?
  2. What can you do if a credit reporting agency is not placing a credit freeze or fraud alert properly?

What Happens If You Don’t Pay Your Student Loan Bill?

“New data shows that 11.3 percent of student loans were delinquent at the end of 2014–double the rate just 10 years ago.”

Today many students graduate with substantial student loan debt and struggle to make payments–especially when they are just entering the workforce.   While tempting to default on students loans, there are serious long-term consequences.   For example

  1. Your credit score will tank once your payment is 45-90 days late.
  2. You could wind up in default after 270 days, and the lender can ask for the unpaid balance in full and your account could be given to a collection agency.
  3. If you default on federal loan payments, Uncle Sam can take your tax return.
  4. The federal government can take up to 15 percent of your wages if you default on student loans.
  5. If someone consigned your loan, they also suffer the consequences for late payments or a default.

For someone who has fallen behind on student loan payments, the article also provides suggestions that can help get back on track.

For more information, click here

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Stress the importance of making student loan payments on time.
  • Discuss the consequences of missing payments or defaulting on a student loan.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to make student loan payments on time?
  2. What are the consequences of defaulting on a student loan?
  3. Assume you are behind on your student loan payments. What steps can you take to find the money needed to make student loan payments and eventually pay off a student loan?

5 Questions to Help You Get Your Financial Life in Order

“Rather than making resolutions . . . try answering the following five questions today, with a plan to answer them again when 2015 comes to a close.”

In this MarketWatch article, Chuck Jaffe poses the following 5 questions to help people gauge their financial health.

  1. What’s your net worth?
  2. How many times your current (or last) salary do you have in retirement savings?
  3. What’s your debt-payment burden?
  4. If you don’t see the next New Year, what would happen to your family financially?
  5. When reviewing your finances, what is the single thing that makes you feel the best? The worst?

In addition to the questions, Mr. Jaffe also provides information that can be used to improve a person’s answers  to each question with the goal of helping people manage their personal finances and improve their financial life.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Discuss each question with your students and explain how their answers can impact their personal financial decision making and financial security?
  • Ask students to answer one or more of the questions in this article as an assignment.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is your net worth, salary, savings, and debt-payment burden important?
  2. What implications does the question “If you don’t see the next New Year, what would happen to your family financially?” have on your financial planning activities?
  3. When you look at your finances, what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad? Based on your answer, what can you do to change your answers to this question?