Protect Yourself From Credit Repair Scams


scam_alert

With an improved economy and real estate prices on the rise, your good name and reputation are more important than ever when applying for new credit cards, an automobile, rental property or home mortgage. Many creditors have tightened their lending guidelines, effectively barring millions of Americans from borrowing money.

Long gone are the days of obtaining credit, goods, benefits, services and/or employment with a 620 FICO score. In most instances, a borrower will be denied if they maintain a credit score lower than 740. Even those with high credit scores have experienced reduced credit lines or closed credit card accounts and equity lines. When an account has not been closed, credit limits have been reduced to the existing balance due.

Mortgage lenders, auto finance companies, credit card issuers, credit unions and traditional banks have all raised the bar. Borrowers with low FICO scores can expect to be denied credit or to pay significantly higher interest rates than those with excellent repayment histories.

With about 52 percent of credit profiles at the Equifax, Experian or TransUnion consumer reporting agencies containing some sort of error or omission materially impacting credit worthiness, some turn to credit repair to remedy low credit scores and issues that prevent them from borrowing money. Absent self-help and the “do-it-yourself” approach, they hire a credit service organization in the restoration of their good name and reputation.

The terms credit repair, credit restoration or credit rehabilitation are somewhat synonymous. Those with bad repayment histories cannot afford to ignore the potential benefits of credit repair. In today’s economy, a strong FICO score is more important than ever.

Beware, though, when hiring a credit repair company.

Most — but not all — credit service organizations specialize in the restoration of consumer credit worthiness as well as issues related to identity. Assuming that the credit repair company is performing within established guidelines, they utilize laws enacted by Congress to dispute negative, erroneous, obsolete and/or fraudulent information contained within your consumer credit profile.

Utilizing the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Billing Act and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, a reputable credit service organization will assist in the submission of disputes electronically, verbally and in writing to the Equifax, Experian and TransUnion consumer reporting agencies. Disputes are also submitted to creditors, collection agencies, and third-party record providers, in addition to state, federal, and local regulatory authorities.

Unlike most credit repair clinics that submit the same written complaint letters monthly, a reputable credit repair company will have devised a strategy whereby disputes are submitted electronically, verbally and in writing over a long period of time to the credit reporting agencies, creditors, collection agencies and third-party record providers reporting negative, inaccurate, obsolete and erroneous information.

Keep in mind that anything a credit repair company can do, you can do yourself for little to no cost. With that said, a reputable credit service organization should have an edge over consumer driven disputes as they will possess the education, knowledge and a source proven method that is generally unknown to the average consumer.

A reputable credit service organization should have a provable track record of results in the modification or removal of erroneous and inaccurate judgments, liens, mortgage foreclosures, bankruptcies, short-sales, student loans, credit inquiries, derogatory accounts and collection agency entries, personal identifiers and other transient data from a consumer’s credit report. Although the credit restoration process can take many months, most individuals should see some results within the first 45 to 60 days.

Credit repair, credit restoration and credit rehabilitation is as legal as pleading “not guilty” in a court of law. One must understand, though, that most credit service organizations are not law firms and that their employees may not be licensed to practice law. As such, even a reputable credit repair company cannot provide legal advice, nor may they represent a consumer before any court or in any legal proceeding. In the event that legal representation is required, the credit repair company should provide an appropriate attorney referral for consultation.

When self-help or the “do-it-yourself” approach is not feasible and you decide to hire a credit repair company to restore your credit, be sure to check them out. While the majority of credit repair clinics are scams, a few good ones do exist. Consumers can check out a credit service organization through their state Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov or through the Better Business Bureau at http://www.BBB.org.

Advertisements

Scam Alert: Feds accuse T-Mobile of ripping off customers in cramming scheme


scam-alert

In litigation aimed at fraudulent business practices within the mobile telephone industry, the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday accused T-Mobile of making hundreds of millions of dollars by scamming customers with unauthorized text message charges, according to FTC Consumer Protection Director Jessica Rich.

The FTC is seeking a court order to permanently bar T-Mobile from “cramming,” or charging cellphone customers for spam text messages that they did not request or have an interest in receiving.

In a process known as “third-party billing,” carriers such as T-MobileAT&TSprint and Verizon typically place charges on a consumer’s bill for services provided by another company.   In return, the phone company receives a substantial percentage of the amount charged.

When the charges are placed on the bill without the consumer’s authorization, it is known as “cramming.”

T-Mobile — which brands itself as a low-cost alternative to top rivals AT&T and Verizon — received between 35 and 40 percent of the amount it charged customers for the bogus texts subscriptions, thus generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, the FTC alleged.

“It’s wrong for a company like T-Mobile to profit from scams against its customers when there were clear warning signs the charges it was imposing were fraudulent,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez indicated in a prepared statement. “The FTC’s goal is to ensure that T-Mobile repays all its customers for these crammed charges.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is also launching an investigation into T-Mobile’s billing practices and has the power to level fines against the company if it determines that wrongdoing has occurred.

According to the complaint filed by the FTC, T-Mobile allegedly charged customers for spam texts — “such as flirting tips, horoscope information or celebrity gossip” — at a typical cost of $9.99 per month.  T-Mobile also ignored signs that the text messages were unwanted — such as a large number of customers seeking refunds — and made it difficult to discover and remove the charges.

“Rather than going after T-Mobile, the FTC should focus on the third-party companies that are sending the text messages,” argued T-Mobile CEO John Legere.

“As a single mother, I can hardly afford to pay additional and fraudulent fees,” T-Mobile customer Bina Fink Kohl of Weston told Examiner.  “As a T-Mobile customer, I expect them to be fair and honest in their dealings.  From the litigation, it appears that T-Mobile has been scamming me all along.”

According to T-Mobile, they have already made commitments to stop billing for unwanted spam text messages and issue refunds for unwanted text messages.

“T-Mobile is fighting harder than any of the carriers to change the way the wireless industry operates and we are disappointed that the FTC has chosen to file this action against the most pro-consumer company in the industry rather than the real bad actors,” stated Legere.

According to Jessica Rich of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, the agency and T-Mobile have not been able to reach a settlement on the charges, resulting in the litigation filed Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission.

“In court we will determine just how much” T-Mobile needs to refund its consumers, but “our evidence to date is that hundreds and millions of dollars are at stake,” Rich said.  “Our first priority is to get the money back to consumers.”

Rich called the charges against T-Mobile — the agency’s first cramming charges against a telecom company — “a new front in [the federal agency’s] longstanding campaign” against wireless cramming.

The T-Mobile case “sends a strong message to other mobile phone companies,” Rich concluded.  “We will continue to bring additional cases to deter this conduct.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission complaint, many of the allegations focus on T-Mobile billing practices, which “made it difficult for consumers to detect that they were being charged, much less by whom.”

Customers would have to scan through several screens online and up to 50 pages of a physical bill to find obscure and fraudulent accounting for the third-party charges, the FTC said.

Among the allegations were that prepaid customers – who do not receive monthly bills – would have the third-party charges deducted automatically.  Once customers discovered the charges and their source, T-Mobile would refuse to fully refund the charges, sometimes directing the customers to contact the third-parties.

“I’m alarmed that T-Mobile is accused of fraudulent billing practices,” Remington Longstreth told Examiner. “I never check my bill completely.  With that said, I don’t expect to be cheated either.”

The federal investigation and complaint against T-Mobile comes at no worse time as the company is reportedly in talks to be bought by Sprint.  This highly-anticipated deal would combine the country’s third- and fourth-largest wireless companies.

Legere concluded by calling the lawsuit against T-Mobile “sensationalized legal action” that is “unfounded and without merit.”

_________________

As a nationally recognized credit repair and identity theft expert, Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.

Target data breach: credit monitoring will not protect you from identity theft


William E. Lewis Jr, Target Data Breach
Target data breach

Attention Target shoppers. Expect more, pay less has brought new meaning as an offer of free credit monitoring may not be enough to prevent identity theft, according to Consumer Reports. The offer of “free” credit monitoring may also give shoppers a false sense of security into believing they are totally protected from identity theft.

Following the massive security breach in December that impacted more than 110 million customers, Target offered “peace of mind” to customers worried about identity theft by providing a free credit monitoring service through one of the nation’s largest credit reporting agencies, Experian.

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to enroll in the Target credit monitoring program.

“The problem is that each of the three major credit bureaus — EquifaxTransUnion, and Experian — can collect different information. So unless you’re checking all of them, you can miss someone trying to steal your identity and open new credit,” said Margot Gilman of Consumer Reports.

Target customers can register for the service — provided by Experian, regardless of whether they have been personally affected by the theft of customer data records at the discount store chain.

The credit monitoring service offered by Experian is an ongoing review of your current credit history. If an identity thief opens a new account using your name and personal information, you will receive an alert by email or text message. What the free credit monitoring service through Experian does not do is to monitor transactions — the actual, day-to-day purchases made on your credit and debit cards. That is something you must do yourself.

The Target data breach allegedly involves the use of active account information and not the opening of new accounts.

“So if I understand this correctly, I’m not protected from identity theft at all,” Bina Fink Kohl, herself an identity theft victim and Target shopper, said. “Sounds like another possible scam. Why would I give my information back to the very company that lost it to start with?”

To protect yourself from new accounts being opened without your permission, Gilman suggests placing a security freeze on their credit profile.

“A security freeze is one of the best protections,” Gilman said. “It blocks access to your credit information and makes it more difficult for a crook to open a new account under your name.”

There is a negative side to a total security freeze, though. Any inquiry into your credit history will be totally blocked, meaning an application for credit, goods, benefits, services and/or employment can be delayed or even denied. The credit freeze remains in place until the consumer removes it for a specific purpose or time frame.

More than 110 million shoppers have been impacted by the Target data breach. Each of them has been offered the free credit monitoring service for 12 months. But — according to Consumer Reports — the “free” service is riddled with defects and enticements.

  • Once consumers enroll in the “free” credit monitoring service, they are enticed with an offer to purchase an Equifax and TransUnion credit report for up to $74 more to supplement the free report provided by Experian. “An Experian ad … pitched me to buy my ‘total credit picture. Why wait? View all three of your credit reports and scores now’ for $14.95.”
  • The type of free credit monitoring offered by Target monitors only one credit reporting agency — Experian — and not the credit history files maintained by Equifax and TransUnion. This a huge disadvantage, as the data reported from the three major credit bureaus can differ significantly across the country.
  • The type of free credit monitoring offered by Target is “old school” as it monitors new account activity and inquiries rather than unauthorized charges to existing accounts. These services are already available through most credit and debit card issuers, especially the major banks and financial institutions.
  • Some of the Experian ads exploit consumers who are ignorant of their rights under federal law. For instance, consumer protection laws already allow identity theft or potential identity theft victims to place a free 90-day fraud alert on their credit report. Placement of the 90-day fraud alert will allow consumers to obtain their credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion absolutely free.

“I’m alarmed that Target is providing me with a credit monitoring service that may not fully protect my good name and reputation within the community,” said Remington Longstreth, a frequent Target shopper. “When I first learned of the offer, I immediately signed up. Now I’m left wondering if that was the right thing to do.”

In addition to or as an alternative to the Target credit monitoring service offered by Experian, impacted consumers may protect themselves from potential identity theft.

Periodically review your credit report

By keeping close tabs on your credit report at EquifaxExperian and TransUnion credit reporting agencies, you can detect signs of identity theft early. If you find an account not opened by you and have identified it as fraudulent, enter a dispute directly with the creditor as well as with the credit reporting agencies. You may be required to provide them with a valid police report and FTC Affidavit of Identity Theft.

You can obtain a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or 877-322-8228.

Place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit report

Contact each of the credit reporting agencies and request a 90-day initial fraud alert. Not only will this trigger a free credit report but will advise potential creditors to investigate any application prior to issuing credit or providing services.

Equifax can be contacted at 800-525-6285, Experian at 888-397-3742 and TransUnion at 800-916-8800. Be sure to renew the alert every three months.

Freeze your credit report

Without access to your credit report, identity thieves are frozen in their tracks as creditors will not have access to your credit history. In many states, you are entitled to temporarily “freeze” access to your credit profile without cost if you are over 65 years of age or are a verified victim of identity theft. All others may be required to pay a small fee. Without access to your credit report, no lender will issue credit in your name.

Stop unsolicited credit card or insurance offers

Opting out of pre-screened approval offers for credit or insurance at www.optoutprescreen.com or 888-5OPT-OUT will stop most unsolicited applications and reduce the incidence of identity theft. Opting out refers to the process of removing your name, address and personal identifiers from lists supplied by the Equifax, Experian, TransUnion and Innovis credit reporting agencies to be used for preapproved/prescreened offers of credit or insurance.

“As a single mother, I can hardly afford to lose access to my debit and credit cards let alone become a victim of identity theft,” Target shopper Marina Sweat explained. “I used to shop at Target all the time and although I now shop at Walmart, I’m not any less a target. I’m not happy with the way this whole data breach situation is being handled.”

Seven South Florida residents charged in $49.6 million mortgage fraud scheme


Seven South Florida charged in $49.6 million mortgage fraud scheme
Seven South Florida residents charged in $49.6 million mortgage fraud scheme

United States Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer announced Monday the unsealing of a 15-count indictment charging seven South Florida residents in a mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in the approval of approximately $49.6 million in fraudulent loans, according to the Department of Justice.

Ferrer, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, was accompanied at a press conference by Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office; and Fred W. Gibson, Jr., Acting Inspector General, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General (FDI-OIG).

Among those charged were Domenico “Dom” Rabuffo, 77, of Miami; Mae Rabuffo, 74, of Fort Lauderdale; Diane M. Hayduk, 64, of Miami; Raymond E. Olivier, 52, of Land O’ Lakes; Curtis Allen Davis, 51, of Tampa; Victor Miguel Vidal, 48, of Miami; and Lazaro Jesus Perez, 43, of Miami Lakes.

The alleged scam artists conspired to perpetrate a complex $49.6 million mortgage fraud scheme against various FDIC-insured lenders from 2003 to 2008.  Millions in losses to the lenders, including Bank of America, Regions Bank, SunTrust Bank, and Wachovia Bank, resulted from the alleged scam.

The properties referred to in the indictment consist of multiple vacant lots in a community development in North Carolina.

Domenico Rabuffo and Mae Rabuffo allegedly used shell companies to acquire ownership and control of a purported residential property development known as Hampton Springs, located in Cashiers, North Carolina.

According to the indictment, Domenico Rabuffo, Mae Rabuffo, Diane M. Hayduk, Raymond E. Olivier, and Curtis Allen Davis recruited numerous straw buyers to purchase lots in the Hampton Springs development. The straw buyers allegedly financed the purchase of the building lots in Hampton Springs using mortgage loans and further obtained construction loans for the same properties.

Collectively, the defendants caused straw buyers to submit false and fraudulent loan applications and related documents to the lenders to ensure that the straw buyers qualified for the loans. Victor Miguel Vidal served as a loan officer at SunTrust Mortgage, where he shepherded the fraudulent loan applications of the straw buyers through the approval process, including fraudulent applications for $33 million in construction loans.

Lazaro Jesus Perez furnished fictitious and fraudulent accountant’s letters to Vidal in support of various fraudulent mortgage loan applications submitted to SunTrust Mortgage.

Based on the indictment, the lenders were induced to advance approximately $49.6 million in loan proceeds in connection with this scheme. The proceeds of the defendants’ mortgage fraud scheme were funneled through shell-corporation accounts controlled by Domenico Rabuffo and Mae Rabuffo, for the use and benefit of the defendants and their co-conspirators and to further their fraudulent scheme.

The indictment includes charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud affecting a financial institution and substantive bank fraud offenses. The offenses charged in the indictment each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine, and mandatory restitution.

An indictment is only an accusation and the defendants – until proven guilty – are presumed innocent.

__________________

Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.

For daily updates on The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, you can join Bill’s 11,500 plus fans on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/thecreditreportwithbilllewis.

Rolladen Targeted by Attorney General for Deceptive Practices


Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed suit in the Broward County Circuit Court against Hallandale based hurricane shutter company Rolladen, Inc. and its owner, Robert Hoffman, alleging deceptive and unfair trade practices. 

Rolladen and Hoffman have marketed and sold hurricane shutters and impact windows to Florida consumers for years.  According to the suit, the company allegedly required substantial upfront deposits for shutters or windows and then failed to install them.

According to the Attorney General’s Office investigation that started in March, Rolladen is alleged to have received more than $600,000 in consumer deposits for hurricane shutters or impact windows that it failed to deliver.

“As Floridians safeguard their homes against hurricanes, they deserve the assurance of knowing that they are doing business with fair and honest companies,” said Pam Bondi, Florida’s Attorney General.  “My office will continue to investigate deceptive business practices and protect all of Florida’s consumers.”

According to the suit, Rolladen required customers to make an upfront payment of between 40 percent and 80 percent of the contracted price for hurricane shutters.  The company then promised delivery and installation within six to 12 weeks of the contract date.  In many instances, Rolladen failed to deliver.

Bondi’s lawsuit seeks an order prohibiting Rolladen from the marketing or sale of shutters and windows until installations can be completed in accordance with Florida contractor requirements.

The lawsuit also seeks an immediate freeze of all company assets to maximize refunds for consumers.

In addition to the lawsuit, Hoffman was arrested by the Broward Sheriff’s Office last week on charges of running an organized scheme to defraud and for unlicensed contracting.

In what has been forecast as a busy hurricane season, be sure to conduct your “due diligence” before hiring a hurricane shutter contractor.

  • Confirm the contractor has a current state contractor’s license. Go to http://www.myfloridalicense.com to verify a license.
  • Ask who will be doing the actual installation and confirm that the installer is also licensed.
  • Ask for and check references, and investigate the contractor with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).
  • Know what kind of protection you are purchasing. Some counties may have specific standards for storm shutters, so be sure to inquire in advance whether your shutters meet the applicable standards and retain copies of the specifications for insurance purposes.
  • Know that “hurricane film” is not approved for residential use in Florida.
  • Florida requires a building permit for installation of shutters and most windows and doors. Be sure your contractor is obtaining a permit for the installation.
  • Make certain that all materials and supplies, permit fees, and installation costs are included in the price quoted in the written contract.
  • Ask for a specific installation deadline and request the contractor to include the deadline in the contract.
  • Beware if the contractor asks for payment in full before the work is completed.
  • Contractors often require a deposit, but if you pay more than 10 percent of the contract price, the contractor must apply for a permit within 30 days and start work within 90 days of the issuance of the required permit(s).

If you are the victim of Rolladen, Inc. or any other contractor, please contact the Florida Attorney General’s Office at 1-8669-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226) or online at http://www.myfloridalegal.com.