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Your comment:

Cruz: 'Credit doctors' can be recognized by outrageous fees

By Humberto Cruz, Special to the News

Question: I need your advice on contracting the services of these people who claim to know loopholes to fix your credit report. I've seen ads on TV asking for $399 to receive their help. Just how legitimate are they? And can they really do something we cannot do ourselves?

Answer: Your suspicions are right. So-called "credit doctors" and "credit repair" companies don't do anything you could not do on your own -- except charge outrageous fees. By the same token, nobody can "fix" your credit report if by that you mean removing information that is damaging but accurate, and that is required to stay in your credit file.

Thanks to amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Reform Act, which became effective in October 1997, the burden of proof in disputes has shifted from consumers to the credit bureaus. Disputed information must be verified within 30 days or removed, and consumers can sue a creditor that fails to correct an obvious error.

And yet, every day "credit repair" companies promise to "clean up" credit reports.

A much better solution is to order a copy of the guide published by the Institute of Consumer Financial Education in San Diego, which includes more than a dozen sample letters to use when communicating with credit reporting agencies about mistakes and problems. The clearly written guide explains how to obtain credit reports, how to read them and how to make changes and corrections. It also includes a section on establishing or re-establishing credit.

For a copy of the 44-page guide, now in its Twelfth Printing, send a check or money order for $10 to the Institute of Consumer Financial Education, P.O. Box 34070, San Diego, CA. 92163-4070. You also can buy the guide online at the Institute's Web site:

Q: One subject you might want to discuss is identity theft and how one should periodically contact the various credit reporting companies to check on unusual activity. You would do a great service by providing the names and phone numbers.

A: The problem of identity theft -- somebody pretending to be you and running up large bills -- has gotten worse in the electronic age. The Internet and other forms of electronic commerce make it easier for sophisticated crooks to access Social Security numbers and other personal information.

Here are some common-sense tips:

Protect your Social Security number, credit card numbers, account passwords and other personal information. Never give out these numbers unless you initiate the contact with a person you know and trust.
Minimize the damage in case your wallet gets lost or stolen. Don't carry around more checks, credit cards or other bank items than you expect to need.
Review your credit report once a year. Here are the toll-free numbers for three major reporting agencies: Equifax (800-685-1111), Experian (888-397-3742), and Trans Union (800-888-4213).

Write to Humberto Cruz at Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1500, Chicago, IL 60611.

November 19, 2001

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