Your credit score is more important to you than ever. If you ever want to get a mortgage or a credit card, a mobile phone or rental accommodation, then you need to guard a good score with your life. Unfortunately, as soon as something becomes important to us, the scammers know that they can make money from it.
Two credit report scams are becoming increasingly common. But what are they, and how can you protect yourself from them?
The ID theft twistOne of these scams is a new twist on the identity theft scam. It specifically targets those who are most worried about ID theft, and uses their fears against them.
The first step in the scam is an email from an official-sounding credit organisation (which is either entirely fictitious or isn't from the organisation at all). They will warn you that a note of 'delinquency' has been added to your credit report - suggesting that you have a loan that you are not paying off as you should, which is ruining your credit score.
It will raise the possibility that this may not even be a loan you are aware of - it could be one that has fraudulently been taken out in your name - and that you may have been a victim of identity theft.
However, if you click the link you will be taken to a website where you will be persuaded to part with personal details - often disguised as asking you security questions to protect your account. These details will then be used by the scammers to commit the kind of identity theft that you were concerned about in the first place.
The experts at Experian warn that if you receive one of these emails, you should assume it is a scam. No company could ever check your credit report without your permission, so there's no way that any organisation could have checked it and found any kind of activity. It means that contacts like this are always fraudulent.
As a basic rule of thumb you shouldn't click on any links in emails from anyone you don't know, because you have no idea where they will take you. You should also beware of emails that come out of the blue and ask you for personal details. Think of it in terms of someone approaching you on the street. If a stranger emerged from the crowd and started asking you questions you'd be highly suspicious. If that stranger emails you instead, your reaction should be exactly the same.
If you are worried about the possibility of identity theft, it's easy to order a credit report from an organisation like Experian. You can order a statutory one-off check for £2. Alternatively you can sign up for the CreditExpert service for a 30-day free trial. This lets you check your credit report regularly for anything unexpected. These reports also come with a useful guide as to what you should be looking for and what you should do if you find something unexpected.
The scam that promises to 'fix' your credit scoreThis scam has been around for a bit longer, but as more people have struggled during the past few years, there are more people who have one or more negative things on their credit report - which means more potential victims for these particular scammers.
They will email you - or advertise their services online - claiming that in return for an up-front fee, they will be able to fix your credit score, so that anything negative in your credit history is removed and you are able to borrow at a great rate again.
In the best case scenario these are simply charging you an arm and a leg for something you can easily do yourself - which is to check your credit report for any mistakes or any information that's out-of-date. You don't need an expensive service for this. You can simply order a credit report from Experian, look through it, and contact them about any queries. They have dedicated teams which will go over your report with you, correct any mistakes or raise any potential fraud issues with the lender in question - without charging you a penny. This is all you would be paying these companies to do for you.
In the worst case, you're not just being overcharged for a service, you're being seduced by a company that claims to be able to erase negative things from your report. This is simply not legal: they will not be able to get the results they are claiming, and you will be left with the same credit history - just with less money and more regret.