Tag Archives: Federal Trade Commission

Free credit score?

money layeredWhen consumers get their credit report for free, some are surprised it doesn’t contain their credit score. The three digit score is a staple in the consumer financial industry, yet it doesn’t come with our free credit reports. It’s mystifying, but the excuse has always been that as long as your report is clean your score will be good. Many consumer advocates are trying to change that, and introduced in Congress the Free Access to Credit Scores Act to make the score available for free with your credit report.

A solid credit score will earn you cheaper rates on mortgages, bank loans, credit cards, and possibly even insurance premiums. Yet, companies want consumers to pay $10-15 for their score. Your other option is to enroll in a “free” trial that ends up costing you money.

To get a so-called free credit score, you’re often enrolled in a trial for credit monitoring services that can be costly. Enrolling in these programs may not even give you a meaningful score. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found about one in five consumers may not even get the score they would if they obtained it from a lender. The consumer watchdog advises against paying for credit monitoring.

Under this proposed law, the free score would be a reliable score actually used by lenders rather than an “informational” score. You would have access to all scores from the previous year that are stored in your file, and information accessed about your creditworthiness.

Currently, you are entitled to a score if it results in adverse action like denial of a loan.

While this is debated in Congress, now is a great time to remind you about your free credit report. You can access it through Annual Credit Report.

Hopefully we are one step closer to seeing our score as well as our report.

Related links you may like:
1 in 5 credit reports have mistakes
When you can see your credit score
Fixing a mistake on your credit report

1 in 5 consumers has a mistake on their credit report – have you checked your report?

Credit card cash registerWe rely on our credit to buy homes, get a credit card, and get a job. A new report by the Federal Trade Commission found five percent of consumers had errors on their report that could lead them to pay higher prices for everyday products like auto loans and insurance. Plus, one in five consumers had an error on at least one of their three credit reports. So, when was the last time you checked your credit report?

“These are eye-opening numbers for American consumers,” said Howard Shelanski, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics.  “The results of this first-of-its-kind study make it clear that consumers should check their credit reports regularly.  If they don’t, they are potentially putting their pocketbooks at risk.”

While there are horror stories out there from consumers who disputed mistakes only to have it stay on their account, the Congressionally mandated report by the FTC found four out of five consumers who filed a dispute saw a modification to their report.

A January NewsChannel 5 story I did featuring a Northeast Ohio woman who had her credit report file mixed with another woman’s.

credit reportYou can get a free report through the website, Annual Credit Report. It is the only free site where you can get a report. The other ones you’ve heard of , perhaps because of the catchy jingle on TV, will charge you fees or enroll you in a free trial program. Use Annual Credit Report to access your reports.

You will have to give your social security number, and answer a series of multiple choice questions. This is to prove you are who you say you are so your information is not released to an identity thief.

Look for mistakes and dispute them
Review the reports carefully. You will have access to three reports, one from each of the three credit reporting agencies. If you want to keep tabs on your credit year round, check one report every four months from Annual Credit Report. For example, check TransUnion in January via Annual Credit Report. In May, check Experian through Annual Credit Report. In September, check Equifax through Annual Credit Report. It does not matter which order you check the reports.

If you find a mistake, dispute it. It’s best to start a paper trail of your dispute so print off any online disputes you file. Some attorneys will even suggest you mail a certified copy of the dispute so you have the paper trail.

The dispute process is explained at the end of the credit report.

If you can’t get the problem resolved on your own, report it to your Attorney General or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is a government agency that recently began regulating and monitoring consumer reporting agencies.

Credit report vs credit score
money angle You will not get your score through Annual Credit Report, and don’t be tricked into paying to get your score. There are dozens of companies that will charge you or enroll you in a free trial to get your score. Be careful with these companies, and understand exactly what you are signing up for before you give out your credit card information.

You may be able to get your credit score for free if a company runs your credit to determine your eligibility for a product. Some companies automatically send it to you, and other times you have to ask. If you are denied credit, the company must give you a copy of the score that made you ineligible for the financial product.

Interactive Super Bowl ads raise privacy concerns

nflWhile two brothers will square off for a chance to win the Super Bowl trophy, much of the focus Sunday will not be on the gridiron. In the field of public opinion, it’s the commercials that matter most. This year’s ads are expected to be more interactive than ever as people will have food in one hand and their tablet or smartphone in another. However, some experts say you need to think twice before you let the advertisers win you over.

Coke is asking you to log onto Coke Chase to determine the outcome of its ad. The commercial features three characters as they make their way through the hot desert in pursuit of an ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola. You can choose who receives the Coke. Your options include the cowboys, showgirls, or badlanders. There is even a  hashtag so you can join the conversation for the Coke Chase. At the end of the game, the winner will be revealed in another commercial.

Plus, if you “like” or follow the Coke Chase you will get an undisclsed reward at the end of the game. I wonder what that will be. Maybe a Coke? Here’s the part that worries some consumer advocates. The first 50,000 people who vote and register at MyCokeRewards will receive a thank you coupon for a free Coke, Diet Coke, or Coke Zero.

Neighborhood Housing Services Consumer Law Center said you need to think twice before you sign up for these promotions since you may have to give your contact information. You can sign up with Facebook, thus giving Coke access to your Facebook information. Or, you can sign up by giving your birthdate, phone number, and email address. When you submit that information, you agree to the program rules, terms of use, and privacy policy. However, are you really going to read all three during the Super Bowl?

The Consumer Law Center said, “What people don’t realize is that when they create an on-line account, they are giving the host-company permission to sell that information to anybody who asks. Unfortunately, for the unsuspecting consumer, there is no law that prohibits the host company from sharing or selling your information to ANYbody for ANY purpose.”

The Privacy Policy says your information will be used “to send you advertising/promotional material from some of our affiliates, advertising and strategic partners.”

Since you willingly signed up, that’s considered an inquiry so the Consumer Law Center said the company then has the right to contact you for the next 90 days under the Federal Trade Commission’s telemarketing sales rule. The question is — is it worth it for a free Coke?

These are questions you should ask yourself anytime you sign up for a promotion. Even if you don’t sign up, you need to consider if it’s worth it to give up your social media space to promote a company.  To win a chance to next year’s halftime show, Pepsi wants you to Tweet a hashtag. The more you Tweet the more clues you will unlock the inside track to winning a trip. What’s the chance of wining that trip? Is it worth it to continually retweet just for the chance of winning something?


FTC shuts down “Rachel” from Cardholder Services again

In an ideal world, you should no longer hear from “Rachel” with Cardholder Services. The Federal Trade Commission disconnected the lines for five operations the FTC says were responsible for making these Rachel calls. Do I think the calls will stop? Unfortunately, no. It’s the harsh reality of robocalls in 2012.

The FTC is getting 200,000 complaints A MONTH on robocalls and Do Not Call list violations. That’s a ton! It shows how big a problem this is right now for Americans.

The FTC said technology is making it hard to track down the responsible companies. They can fake their phone number or buy a number that’s been resold several times making it more difficult to find the violator.

Also, “Rachel” is used by many companies. The FTC shut one down in 2010 and she’s back. Five more were shut down today. Hopefully that will put a dent in the Rachel calls, but she still might call you.

In her place, the captain is taking over. Have you heard from him offering you a free trip? It’s as memorable as Rachel because you’re greeted with a fog horn when you say hello.

The FTC is taking legal action against these companies, but it admits it doesn’t have a permanent solution. The government agency is offering a $50,000 cash reward to anyone who can come up with a technical solution to the problem. That’s a lot of cash for someone who can answer the government’s desperate plea for help.

Related links you may like:
Your cell phone number is not going public
Prepaid cell phones can cut your bill in half

$50,000 challenge for solution to robocallers who violate Do Not Call list

The Federal Trade Commission has a $50,000 challenge to help solve the problems with the Do Not Call list.  The agency receives 3-400,000 complaints a month about the list. The FTC said technology is making it difficult to track down the violators and put an end to these calls and complaints.

“The FTC is attacking illegal robocalls on all fronts, and one of the things that we can do as a government agency is to tap into the genius and technical expertise among the public,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robocalls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero.”

Consumers are desperate for answers, frustrated with these annoying calls that don’t stop. I asked the agency if a list is outdated since technology is making it hard to stop these calls, and I was told no. The list does stop some calls. It’s just hard to track down the violators.

This challenge is interesting and will probably yield some good solutions, however, it also shows the desperation of the government. Essentially they don’t have an answer to make their list work. Their only hope at dealing with all this consumer resentment is to offer a big reward as an incentive to entrepreneurs to develop a solution. Public and private partnerships have long yielded good results. It’s just a unique approach for a unique problem.

The agency is looking for an idea that will work, is easy to use and can be put into use. Individuals, teams, or small corporations with fewer than 10 employees are eligible for the cash prize. Larger groups will receive an achievement award but no cash prize.

To come up with a solution, participants will need to know a little about the extent of the problem. So, the FTC will give participants four years worth of complaint data including date of call, time, reported caller name, first seven digits of the recorded phone number, and consumer area code.

You can start submitting your idea October 25th at 5:00 PM through January 17th, 2013 at 5:oo PM. There is no guarantee a winner will be selected. “If” one is chosen, it will be announced in April.

Still have questions? Join a social media chat October 25th at 1:0o ET.

Related links you may like:
FTC trying to stop robocalls as complaints rise
FTC takes action  – Will “Rachel” stop calling?
Cut your cell phone bill in half
Your cell phone number is not going public

Do Not Call Registry complaints up – FTC trying to stop the robocalls

Logo for the United States National Do Not Cal...

Logo for the United States National Do Not Call Registry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are 217 million phone numbers on the Do Not Call list, but millions still say it’s not working for them. Every month 200-300,000 people complain to the FTC. Many of the complaints stem from robocalls or recorded messages.  The Federal Trade Commission is fed up too, and wants your ideas to stop them.

Today, the FTC is holding a robocall summit. The goal is to brainstorm new ideas to stop these annoying calls. One of the most popular, “Rachel from Cardholder Services.” The FTC took action against a company making Rachel calls in 2010, but she’s still calling. Staff Attorney Michael Milgrom is with the FTC in Cleveland, and told me for a NewsChannel 5 article that it’s probably a different Rachel calling now. The software to make Rachel-like calls makes its rounds in the industry, and likely someone else is now using that pre-recorded message.

The FTC said technology makes it difficult to track down the responsible party for the robocall. It’s easy to spoof or fake a number.

Have a complaint or idea? Let the FTC know.

FTC takes action to protect Do Not Call list numbers — will “Rachel” from cardholder services stop calling?

“Hello, this is Rachel at Cardholder Services.” Even though it’s an automated message, so many people feel like they know Rachel because she’s called so many times.  Most people don’t want to get to know Rachel. They want her to stop calling, and the Federal Trade Commission says it’s taking action to make sure her robocalls stop.

The FTC said more than two billion calls were made promoting a variety of products including extended auto warranties and credit card interest rate reduction plans. Under a settlement, the FTC said SBN Peripherals which did business as Asia Pacific Telecom, Inc. will give up $3 million in assets. Plus, the FTC said the company will be banned from telemarketing.

The FTC said most consumers had no idea who was calling because the caller ID simply said “SALES DEPT” and displayed offshore numbers. The FTC said the prerecorded calls were made to numbers on the Do Not Call list.

The credit calls often told you to to press one to speak with an agent to lower your credit card interest rate. In one recording the FTC supplied, the message said it’s urgent you call concerning your eligibility. The FTC said 12.8 million people were actually connected to an agent.

Logo for the United States National Do Not Cal...

Enforcement slow
One of the messages the FTC provided was from “Rachel” at cardholder services. Another caller used another name. It’s unknown if this is the only “Rachel” as lots of people say they’ve heard from a “Rachel.’

The problem is these companies are a dime a dozen. Who knows if the Rachel who called me is the Rachel that was part of this operation. It takes years to take down the companies behind the robocalls leaving consumers frustrated for years. It’s good to see the FTC cracking down, but a NewsChannel 5 investigation recently found few complaints are filed in comparison to the number of complaints filed.

The FTC gets thousands of complaints a day about possible violations of the Do Not Call list. They’ve taken action against fewer than 100 companies despite more than 8 million complaints.

New laws
New robocall rules are also being implemented that close some of the loopholes. A business now needs your written permission before they can call you with prerecorded telemarketing message.

You can refuse the permission in written form or by following a prompt on the voice message which often involves hitting a number on your phone’s keypad. You will be given directions at the beginning of the call telling you how to opt out.

Informational calls are still allowed like one from the airline letting you know your flight is cancelled or a reminder about an appointment or prescription refill. Debt collectors are also allowed to call.

If your name is on the Do Not Call list, hopefully another “Rachel” won’t be calling you soon. Click here to make sure your number is registered.

Related stories you may like:
Cell phone numbers are not going public
Do Not Call list complaints rise

FTC sending check to scareware victims

If you get a check in the mail from the Federal Trade Commission, it’s not a scam. Enjoy this holiday gift that’s really the result of a settlement.The FTC is sending more than 300,000 consumers refund checks because they were the victim of a “scareware.”

The FTC settled with Innovative Marketing and other parties involved in the scheme. The FTC says the companies involved tricked consumers into thinking their computers were infected with viruses or spyware, and then sold them software programs like Winfixer, Drive Cleaner, and XP Antivirus to fix a problem that didn’t exist.

The average check will be $20, but it all depends on how much you lost. The company, Epiq Systems, will be sending the checks. If you think you are due a refund or need more information call 1-877-853-3541 or visit www.FTC.gov/refunds.

Related links you may like:
Free service helps you get rid of a virus
Reducing your digital footprint

Do Not Call Registry grows and complaints rise

The Do Not Call list saves millions of Americans those unwanted phone calls from telemarketers. While not perfect, the list continues to grow. The Federal Trade Commission’s annual report of the list shows more than 209 million subscribers. That’s an increase of 8 million from last year.

The list has been around since 2003, but there is still confusion about it. I always hear consumers talk about how they have to re-register their number because it expires. That is not true. The list does not expire thanks to a law passed a few years after the list was created.

Myth number two deals with cell phone numbers and that they will be sold and telemarketers will call you. This urban legend is also false. It’s illegal for telemarketers to call a cell phone number if you didn’t give it to them. If you want to be extra safe, you can register your cell phone number on the registry.

The list is helpful, but also a source of frustration for some who wonder why they still get harassing phone calls even though they are on the Do Not Call list. More than 2 million complaints were filed with the FTC last year. That’s also up from last year, and the highest since the list was created.

If you get an unauthorized call, get as much information as possible and make sure you file a complaint with the FTC.

Click here to register a number on the Do Not Call list

Click here to verify your number is on the Do Not Call list

Related links you may like:
Cell phone numbers not going public
Getting rid of junk mail
Erasing your digital footprint

Debt collection when someone dies

While you may think you would never pay a bill you don’t owe, think again. Debt collectors are threatening and don’t care about your circumstances, so imagine how you would react if one called you demanding payment right after your loved one died. Would you pay it to get them to leave you alone? You might say no now, but given the circumstances your answer might be different.

I will never forget the calls I got after my sister died. One company came after me just because we both had the same cell phone carrier. This company treated me so poorly time and time again all over a bill that was less than $100. It didn’t matter if I faxed over ten death certificates, this business wanted its money. Yet, her student loans that were worth thousands were erased without a fight.

If you don’t know your rights, it’s easy to fall victim to these unrelenting companies at a time when your world feels like it’s in shambles. The debt collectors and/or company itself will try to make you believe that you owe the debt. However, the Federal Trade Commission says you don’t owe the debt unless you co-signed for the financial obligation, living in a community property state like California, you are the deceased person’s spouse and state law requires you pay the debt like health care expenses, or you were responsible to resolve the estate and you didn’t follow state probate laws.

The debts should be paid from the individual’s estate. If there’s not enough money to pay everything off, the debts are left unpaid. In most cases, the survivor doesn’t have to pay the difference even though some companies would like you to think you owe it.

Related link you may like:
Stopping debt collectors