St. Louis, Mo., August 25, 2010 – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers to steer clear of a new scam that promises to improve consumers’ credit scores using a “credit protection number,” or CPN.
Scammers get the numbers by using computers to find dormant Social Security numbers – often those assigned to children. They sell the numbers to people who use them to establish phony credit and run up huge debts they will never pay off. To get around the law, scammers call the numbers credit profile, credit protection or credit privacy numbers – CPNs – rather than Social Security numbers.
In an Associated Press story, Linda Marshall, an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City, was quoted as saying the fraud could lead to another financial collapse. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been working with lenders to alert them to the fraud, which was uncovered while investigating a mortgage fraud case.
In addition to fraud, the use of CPNs poses another danger to consumers: ruined credit scores for children and others whose Social Security numbers are used to perpetrate the fraud. The buyers open a new, unblemished line of credit, which they then use to build up their own rating in a process called piggybacking.
The BBB advises parents to check credit reports for their children regularly. If parents see unauthorized activity under a child’s Social Security number, they should alert authorities and credit reporting agencies.
“This scam is a two-edged sword – defrauding banks as well as consumers whose Social Security numbers are stolen,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB President and CEO. “Consumers need to protect their credit by checking their credit reports annually at annualcreditreport.com or by calling the three credit reporting firms.”
Authorities say they aren’t sure how widespread CPN fraud is, but they believe it could grow as Americans watch their credit scores sink to new lows. As of April, more than a quarter of consumers – nearly 43.4 million people – had credit scores of 599 or below, making them poor risks for lenders.
The BBB advises consumers to take positive action to correct credit problems by paying bills on time and reducing the amount owed on credit cards. Other steps that can be taken include:
- Contact your creditors at once and explain why you’re having trouble paying your bills. See if they will help you work out a manageable payment plan. Once arranged, follow it carefully. Don’t wait until your account has been turned over to a collection agency.
- If you have been turned down or feel an error exists on your credit report, contact the reporting agency in writing and send your appeal by mail “return receipt requested.” Include your name, address, account number, dollar amount in question and the reason you believe the actions taken were wrong.
- If in doubt, request written verification of the debt. Ask for a photocopy of the paperwork including the signature(s).
- Keep receipts, sales slips and billing statements to make sure they match. You may need them if you dispute a bill or report. If the credit agency requests documents, send copies; never send your originals.
- Be skeptical of companies that promise they can immediately solve your credit problems or “clean up your credit report.” There is nothing they can do for you – for a fee – that you cannot do for yourself at little or no cost.
- Be persistent. If your credit file contains errors, you are entitled to have it investigated by the credit bureau. The credit-reporting agency must give you a written report of their investigation - and a copy of your report if the investigation results in any change. Inaccurate information must be corrected or deleted. Cleaning up errors on your credit report can take time and effort.
If you need help in developing a payment plan, non-profit credit counseling agencies may provide help for little or no cost. Questions to ask the agency include:
- Are the agency’s services confidential?
- Will they devise a plan tailored to fit your needs?
- Are the counselors certified?
- Are budget and credit education opportunities offered?
- Will your funds be protected? How?
- Is the agency accredited? By whom?
- Is there a charge for the service?
For more advice on avoiding fraud, visit www.bbb.org.