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May 31, 2012

Awesome article about how to raise your credit score

Since stumbling upon Money Talk News, I have been very impressed with the research and writing of their articles, particularly on consumer issues.  Since starting this blog, I have read countless articles about how to do this or that, but most offer just basic advice that doesn't really help much.  Not so about articles from Money Talk News.  Their articles are almost always insightful and well written.  This article is no different.  I highly advise you to read it and follow its advice to raise your credit score.  Here's the article -

May 30, 2012

Interesting article about specialty consumer reports

As you know if you've been following this blog, the term "consumer report" applies to much more than just the common credit report.  According to a recent article on, the most common types of "specialty" credit reports include:

  1. Check-writing history—bounced checks and accounts closed due to fraud or insufficient funds.
  2. Tenant history—rental history, including eviction actions obtained from court records or previous landlords.
  3. Insurance claims history—history on your past homeowner and vehicle claims.
  4. Medical history—routine health information and history of medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma or depression.
  5. Prescription history—prescription drugs used and dosages/refill history.
  6. Employment background—screening for criminal history, marital status, prior addresses and driving record.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act applies to these types of reports as well as providing special rights and protections that apply to these reports.  The rights that the FCRA affords to consumers that apply to specialty reports include:

  • The right to one free report every year or upon notice of adverse action. Upon request, specialty consumer reporting agencies must provide a free copy of your report once per year or upon denial based upon information in the report.
  • The right to dispute inaccurate or obsolete information. The specialty consumer reporting agency must investigate your dispute and correct or remove inaccurate or outdated records.
  • The right to be advised of a background check. An employer who plans to conduct a background check must notify you and get your permission.

  • The article also provides a nice list of the "other" consumer reporting agencies and how to request a consumer report from each.  I've reprinted it below:

    To order a check writing history report, contact Chexsystems at 800-428-9623; Shared Check Authorization Network at 800-262-7771; and Telecheck at 800-366-2425.
    To order a tenant history report, contact ChoicePoint at 877-448-5732 and SafeRent at 888-333-2413.
    To order an insurance claims history report, contact ChoicePoint at 866-312-8076 and A-Plus Reports at 800-709-8842.
    To order a medical history report, contact Medical Information Bureau at 866-692-6901.
    To order a prescription history report, contact MedPoint at 888-206-0335 and IntelliScript at 877-211-4816.
    To order an employment background screening report, contact ChoicePoint at 866-312-8075.
    To order a ChoicePoint Full File Disclosure, visit
     The full article can be found here and is worth a read -

    May 29, 2012

    Identity theft via malware on the rise

    According to a recent article by David Radin at the, the use of malware to steal personal information later used to steal identities is on the rise. While Mr. Radin does not cite statistics to back up this claim, I believe him to be correct. I too seem to be getting more e-mails of late from those infected by malware.

    Malware is defined by wikipedia as malicious software "designed to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information or gain unauthorized access to a computer system." A lot of malware will take over a victim's e-mail account and send messages to everyone in the victim's address book, attempting to trick them into responding or downloading malware to steal information. People are more susceptible to this type of phishing scheme since the e-mail appears to come from someone the intended victim knows.

    How does one avoid becoming a victim of malware? Again, by being viligant and diligent. If you get an e-mail from a friend or associate that includes an unexpected attachment or asks you to click on a website, e-mail the friend or associate to confirm that he or she meant to send it to you. Some may think that would be rude, but those savvy to the Internet will certainly understand. Also, if you get a malware e-mail, alert the person "sending" it that their computer has been compromised, as they are likely unaware of the malware's hold on their system.

    May 28, 2012

    Identity theft of a business - it does happen!

    Everybody who hasn't been living under a rock has heard of the theft of an individual's identity and the havoc that can cause. But what most people don't realize is that identity thieves can also steal the identity of a business.

    Business identity thieves accomplish their crime by altering the business records filed with a state government to impersonate companies with good financial histories. Using altered documents, the business identity thieves apply for lines of credit in the name of the business and then, of course, do not repay the loans. This leaves the business stuck with the debt and the black mark on the reputation of the business. Also, the Fair Credit Reporting Act only applies to consumer reports, so it provides no help to the business victim.

    How does a business protect itself? Same as a consumer - be vigilant and diligent. Businesses should check their online filings regularly to make sure no alteration has occurred. Some secretary of state offices provide for e-mail alerts when changes are made so be sure to sign up for this service if available in your state. Also, be sure to monitor records of even inactive businesses, since those are prime targets due to the increased chance of the crime going undiscovered for a longer period of time.

    Also, monitor your bills, accounts and bank statements for anything unusual. If you spot any unauthorized changes to your business records, report it to your secretary of state immediately.

    May 21, 2012

    Fraud Center Network - a new consumer reporting agency?

    A lot of people either forget or never realize that the Fair Credit Reporting Act applies to more than just Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, the traditional "big three" credit bureaus. The Fair Credit Reeporting Act defines "consumer reporting agency" as any person who assembles or evaluates consumer reports. A "consumer report" is any written, oral or other communication by a consumer reporting agency bearing on a consumer's credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics or mode of living.

    I recently learned of the Fraud Center Network, which is a website that threatens blacklisting to any consumer that does not pay for his or her online purchases. If a seller has a beef with a purchaser because the purchaser does not pay as promised, the seller reports it to the Fraud Center Network. The Fraud Center then e-mails the buyer who allegedly did not pay and gives him or her a chance to pay before being blacklisted. Most pay at this point, regardless of whether they owe the money. The ones that don't pay get blacklisted. Subscribers to the Fraud Center Network have access to the entries supplied by aggrieved sellers for a fee, regardless of accuracy.

    It seems to me that the compilation of information regarding consumers supplied to the Fraud Center Network's subscribers are consumer reports. The Fraud Center Network would then be considered a consumer reporting agency and subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

    I would like to know more about the Fraud Center Network. A Westlaw search shows no decisions I cases involving them. A google search did not reveal much more. If any of you have had any dealings with them, please contact me.

    May 16, 2012

    More ID Theft and Online Fraud in 2011

    According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a partnership between the FBI's Cyber Division, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National White Collar Crime Center, ID theft and online fraud both increased slightly in 2011.

    The Internet Crime Complaint Center logged over 300,000 complaints of internet crime which includes identity theft and online fraud.  The complaints totaled $485.3 million in losses.

    This is an increase of 3.4% from 2010 but is still down from 2009, which apparently was a peak year for online crime.

    The top five states for online crime were California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Ohio, with people aged 40 to 59 being the most victimized.

    While not all internet crimes reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center resulted in financial loss, the ones that did averaged a $4,187 loss.

    The crimes include auto auction fraud, where the criminal sells a car online that he never actually owned, work from home scams where criminals recruit employees for fake jobs that are actually covers for crime, romance scams where the unlucky in love type is schemed out of money and, finally, loan intimidation scams.

    May 15, 2012

    Equifax says pay day lenders not reporting correctly

    According to Julian Knight at The Independent, Equifax issued an alert recently indicating that some pay day lenders are failing to report all of their lending transactions.  This causes the credit histories provided by Equifax about consumers who utilize pay day lenders to be incomplete.  As a result, when a potential creditor accesses such a consumer's credit report, the creditor will be unaware of the pay day loans and the subsequent payment history of the consumer on those loans.

    Pay day lenders are short term lenders that lend short term with huge interest rates.  Interest rates on the short term loans can be as much as 4,000 percent (yes, you read that right).  The loans are so short term that the interest on them seems small, even though its actual yearly percentage is huge.  The pay day loan industry is accused of targeting the poor and the young and forcing them into a debt ridden lifestyle.

    Pay day lenders should report their account histories correctly, thereby rewarding those that pay timely with good reporting that could improve the consumer's credit score and hopefully allow him or her to escape the pay day loan trap.  Unfortunately, pay day lenders do not have much incentive to do this, since it could conceivably cost them future business.

    My advice - avoid pay day loans like the plague.

    May 14, 2012

    Judge resurrects consumer when credit bureaus can't

    Below is a link to an article written by a Utah attorney whose client had what is unfortunately an all too common experience with the credit bureaus. All three credit bureaus started reporting his client Joe as deceased. Joe learned of his death when he was turned down by his banker for a loan.

    Even though he was sitting across from his banker and very much alive, the credit bureaus would not score his credit report. No score, no loan. The attorney wrote the credit bureaus, providing such proof as a recent pay Stubbs (most dead folks retire upon death).

    The letter and proof should have been good enough to ressurect Joe but, you guessed it, a pulse is simply not enough proof for the credit bureaus. They responded by informing Joe that he was still dead.

    So what did the lawyer do? Pretty creatively, he filed a motion in a case he already had pending for Joe asking that the judge declare Joe as alive. The judge even took testimony, which consisted of one question - "Are you alive?" which Joe answered in the affirmative, which most deceased folks are apt not to do. The judge granted the motion, thereby establishing that Joe was indeed alive.

    The question I still have is whether that was enough for the credit bureaus? The article does not say. Unfortunately for Joe, he might still be dead. Read the whole article here - Deep breath not enough to persuade credit bureaus you are alive

    May 11, 2012

    Death and taxes - identity thieves put both to work with latest scam

    They* say that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.  Identity thieves are now taking advantage of both in a new scam.  Thanks in part to the publication of the "Death Master File" (sounds like something from a Hitchcock movie) that lists the Social Security number and other information about the deceased, identity thieves are being able to file tax returns in the names of dead people or use deceased persons as dependents, thereby increasing their tax refunds.

    According to the IRS, tax related identity theft has victimized nearly 500,000 tax payers since 2008.  The IRS has already flagged another 91,000 suspicious returns for investigation this year.

    Another problem is that the IRS won't tell victims of this or other tax related identity theft who the suspected perpetrator is.  This protects the privacy of the criminal but also makes it harder for the victim to defend himself from other forms of identity theft committed by the criminal.

    I have had many calls about tax refund identity theft over the past two years.  The problem is there really isn't anyone to sue (unlike when accounts are fraudulently opened, you can sue the company that negligently opened the fraud account or the credit bureau that continued to report the fraud account after being alerted to its fraudulent nature).  So its hard for me to do anything with these cases other than give the victim some advice, primarily do whatever the IRS says so they can get it straightened out.   And that's the same advice I give to all of you, that and be vigilant and diligent in your fight if your identity is ever stolen.

    *  As my wife always says, who is this "they" you speak of?

    May 10, 2012

    Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

    Really good article about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which I think is one of the crowning achievements of the Obama administration.  The CFPB now enforces several of the consumer protection statutes formerly enforced by the FTC, who really didn't do that much enforcing.  These statutes include the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), Truth in Lending Act ("TILA"), Electronic Funds Transfer Act ("EFTA"), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act ("RESPA").

    The article can be found here -

    May 09, 2012

    Inmates - the latest type of identity theft VICTIM?!

    This is a new one on me.  Just read an article about a new identity theft ring in Arizona that targeted some of their own kind - i.e. convicted criminals.  Four female prisoners became victim to identity theft when the criminals outside the prison used their identity to apply for federal student loans.  The scheme worked for a while, allowing the identity thieves to receive over $150,000 in student loans as well as grants.  They attended classes but reaped the benefits by pocketing the amount exceeding the cost of tuition and books, etc.

    Wild.  Wonder if the credit bureaus will believe the victims were actually not at those classes if the warden provides documentation that they were incarcerated at the time?!

    May 08, 2012

    Upgrading your iPad? Your old one might just be an identity thief's treasure trove

    If you are like me and my family, you have gone though a lot of electronics lately. We upgraded the blackberrys my wife and I had to iPhones. Then we both got new iPads. Add in our daughter's iPod Touch and her cell phone and that's a lot of upgraded devices. And that doesn't include the museum of laptops we have apparently started.

    Why does this matter? Because all of those old devices have storage that contains information that an identity thief would love to get his hands on. And following the manufacturer's instructions on clearing the device's memory may not really delete everything that one might think. Or want deleted.

    A lot of people sell old devices once they upgrade. But the safest thing to do is not sell the old devices. Anyone with much computer knowledge can access information that you thought was long gone. And this can definitely expose you to identity theft.

    So don't trash those old devices or sell them. Keep them for your electronics museum and, by doing so, help keep your good name intact.

    May 07, 2012

    Estimate of victims from Global Payments increases dramatically

    The estimated number of victims from Global Payments' data breach has grown exponentially - like Bruce Banner growing to Hulk size in this weekend's Avengers movie.  The number of estimated victims more than quadrupled. I previously reported that the estimated number of victims of the data breach was approximately 1.5 million. Now, the estimate stands at 7 million.

    The drastic increase is caused by the revelation that the period of time that hackers had access to Global Payments' account information was much longer than originally expected. Originally, the time of exposure was thought to have lasted from January 21 to February 25. Now the breach is thought to have occurred in the previous spring.

    As a result, many more people are potentially exposed to identity theft due to the data breach.  If that happens, they will probably be mad enough at Global Payments to turn into their own Hulk.

    My initial coverage of this incident can be found here -

    May 01, 2012

    Credit Card Companies ignoring ban on marketing to college students

    In 2009, Congress passed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, which in part forbid credit card companies from advertising to students under the age of 21.  Even I am young enough to remember going through the registration process the day before classes started and having shoved in my hands credit card application after credit card application, even receiving "goodies" for beginning life in the dorm.  While I was taught well enough by my parents to avoid that credit card trap, I am sure there were many who ended up deep in debt as a result.

    A recent survey by a University of Houston law professor indicates that credit card companies are still advertising to college students, despite the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act going into effect in 2010.  University of Houston law professor Jim Hawkins surveyed over 500 students.  68 percent of those surveyed had received credit card offers in the mail in the last year and 40 percent had witnessed credit card companies promoting gifts to students (i.e. the "goodies" I recall).

    Its sad when credit card companies get away with breaking the law, particularly at the expense of those just starting out.  Its tough enough to make it starting out with no debt, much less a pile of credit card debt, not to mention student loans.