Consumer and Credit

What is a Credit Report?

Just about every person in the United States has a credit report. A credit report is your financial reputation. Your credit report is what landlords, banks, financial institutions, and even employers used to determine if they should trust you. The trust comes in the form of a landlord allowing you to rent an apartment, a car dealership giving you a loan to purchase a vehicle, a bank giving you a credit card, trusting that you will make the payments or an employer giving you the job.

In other words your credit report is a document that is used to measure your financial responsibility. Your credit report consist of:

· Identity: this includes your name, address, marital status, your date of birth, number of dependents, previous addresses, and Social Security number.

· Employment: this includes your present position, length of employment, income and previous jobs.

· Credit History: this consists of your credit experiences with companies who have extended credit to you in the past (for example: what loans you have taken and whether you have repaid them).

· Other Financial Responsibilities: this includes any missed payments of utility, phone and medical bills, as well as unpaid tickets and fines. You should sign up for free health insurance in order to avoid expensive medical bills For more information on Medicaid, see the Health Care and Medical Rights Chapter.

· Public Record: this includes civil lawsuits and judgments, bankruptcy records, or other legal proceedings recorded by a court.

How does information get into my credit report?

Consumer reporting agencies, sometimes called credit bureaus collect and keep files on the credit history of consumers. These credit reporting agencies collect data from financial institutions, court records, tenant screening companies, cell phone providers, government agencies, check service companies, insurance companies, and other miscellaneous business.

What about my credit score?

Your credit score is the numerical number associated with your credit worthiness. There are two companies that generally determine your credit score. Fair Isaac & Co. sometimes abbreviated as FICO and Vantage Score (which is a creation of the Big Three). There are no laws governing credit scores, (but many that govern credit reports). Therefore, to get a copy of your credit score, you may have to pay a small fee. Credit reports can range from range from the low 300s to the mid-800s.

· Above 720 is excellent;

· Between 719 and 680 is good;

· Between 679 and 620 is average;

· Between 619 and 580 is poor; and

· Below 580 is generally considered bad.

How do I get a copy of my credit report?

By law, you are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from all three major credit-reporting agencies listed above, by going to the following website, and following the instructions. You can also request a copy by phone: 1-877-322-8228. There is a simple verification process that takes place over the phone, after which, your report will be mailed to you. Lastly you can send your request to following address:

Annual Credit Report Request Service

P.O. box 105281

Atlanta, GA 30348

There are mistakes on my credit report, what should I do?

Once you have determined there are mistakes on your credit report the first thing you should do is write a detailed dispute letter to the credit report agency whose report you found the mistake on.

This letter should be as detailed as possible. You should attached evidence to the letter that shows why the information found on the credit report is wrong. Furthermore, you should also attach the actual credit report itself and highlight the mistake. Make copies of all your documents and never send originals.

The letter should be mailed to each credit report agency by certified mail return receipt requested. This means that you will get confirmation when your letters are received. Although you can dispute mistakes on your credit report by going to the websites of the credit reporting agencies directly, it is better to send a letter because you have documented evidence that the credit reporting agency actually received your dispute letter.

If you choose not to send a letter you can dispute your credit report at the following websites.

· Equifax

· Experian

· TransUnion

After the credit reporting agency has received the dispute letter, it must investigate whether the information contained in the credit report is accurate or not. The credit bureau has 30 days to conduct this investigation. During this 30 day period the credit reporting agency may request additional information from you or request additional time.

If the credit-reporting agency cannot verify the information within 30 (or in some cases 60 days) then it generally must remove the disputed information from your credit report.

Additionally, most negative information must be removed from a consumer’s credit report after 7 years (10 years for bankruptcies).

How do I fix my credit report?

Time heals all wounds. The best way to fix credit report is to:

· pay off any outstanding debts that exist on your credit report;

· obtain a stable employment;

· monitor your credit report to ensure it’s accuracy; and

· try to pay your bills in full and on time.

Never trust a company that charges you a fee for their services to “fix” your credit report before the services are complete. It is a violation of the Credit Repair Organizations Act for a company to charge you before the “credit repair work” is complete.

Lost or Stolen Debit Card

If your debit card is lost or stolen you should first notify the bank that issued you the card. Close the account immediately and file a police report.

Under federal law when a debit card is lost or stolen the cardholder is generally liable for no more than $50.00 dollars of any unauthorized use, if the cardholder reports the lost or unauthorized use within two business days.

If the cardholder knows and reports the unauthorized use after two business days, but within 59 business days, then the cardholder will generally only be liable up to $500.00 dollars of the unauthorized use. If the cardholder knows of the unauthorized use and reports it after 60 business days then the cardholder’s liability can be unlimited. Many banks and financial institutions understand how harsh this law can be and provide better protections than the law offers.

Lost or Stolen Credit Card

Credit card holders that receive mistakes on their credit card bill, such as unauthorized use, overcharges, or incorrect charges should:

  • Write a detailed letter (to the specified address to dispute credit card charges generally found on the credit card bill) detailing the mistake. Evidence should be attached to the letter to support the dispute;
  • The letter must be sent to the bank or credit card company within 60 days after first receiving the billing error. It’s best to send the letter via certified mail;
  • The credit card company has 30 days to respond to the dispute in writing. The credit card company has no more than 90 days, or two billing cycles to resolve the dispute.

I think I have been the victim of identity theft?

If you think you have been the victim of identity theft then you should act quickly to clear your name.

· Obtain a free copy of your credit report from, to discover if the thief has opened up any other accounts in your name. You can also request a copy by phone by dialing 1-877-322-8228. There is a simple verification process that takes place over the phone, after which, your report will be mailed to you.

· Go to your nearest police station and make out a police report. Remember to bring your I.D. and all the documents that support your position that someone has stolen your identity.

· Make out an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form or by calling the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free at 1-877 ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261, or by writing Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.

· Make an FTC Affidavit and attach it to your FTC identity theft complaint, Be as detailed as possible and make sure that you reference all of the accounts at issue.

· Write a detailed dispute letter to the bank, or business, and each credit reporting agency. Make sure that the you include copies of your police report, identity theft affidavit, and driver's license with your dispute letter. Inform them that you (and them) have both been victims of identity theft. Keep the originals for your own records.

· Contact one of the big three credit-reporting agencies and place a fraud alert or a credit freeze on your account.

Fraud Alert

Fraud alerts initially last 90 days. When a fraud alert attaches to a consumer’s credit report, companies that receive copies of the credit report or credit score, will know not to issue a new credit card or loan unless the company first takes reasonable measures to confirm that the individual requesting the loan or credit card is the actual consumer.

For the fraud alert to be successful consumers should provide the credit reporting agency a valid phone number, so companies can contact the consumer directly.

Credit Freeze / Block

The Fraud Alert only requires companies to ‘use reasonable measures’ to confirm that the person requesting the loan or the credit card is the actual individual and not an imposter. However, it does not prevent a company from extending credit to a person. A credit freeze is a powerful tool that temporarily prevents companies from obtaining a consumer’s credit report without the consumer’s permission. If the consumer would like to obtain new credit, then he or she must call the credit agency directly, and have the credit freeze temporarily lifted.

Federal law prohibits companies and individuals who have been notified of the identity theft from reporting that information to credit reporting agencies.

Criminal Procedure

Victims of financial identity theft can petition a court for a finding of factual innocence. However, the perpetrator must have been arrested, cited or convicted of a crime in connection with the victim's identity.

What can I do to protect myself from identity theft?

· Safeguard your personal information:

· Don't keep all of your personal information in one place; if a thief gets to it, he or she has everything! Make up "difficult" passwords for online accounts, and use different passwords at each site you access;

· Don’t provide personal information over the internet when using a public computer, e.g., at a library, school or community center, because this information may be accessible to others who use that computer after you;

· Avoid saying your personal information, particularly your Social Security Number, out loud in public;

· Don’t give away your personal information;

· Be aware of the risks of social media: If you post too much information about yourself on social media, an identity thief can find out information about your life;

· Actively monitor your accounts and bank statements;

· Check your credit report at least once a year;

· Shred or destroy any documentation, which contains your personal information.

Scams and Unfair Business Practices

Trust your instinct, if you think you have just been scammed then you likely have. Some people and businesses will do and say anything to get your money. Many Illinois state laws protect consumers who have been scammed by shady businesses. Under Illinois state law it is generally considered an unfair business practice to:

-Sell defective products;

-To pad a bill with hidden fees, false charges;

-Fail to inform a consumer about their rights in a payday, or car title loan;

-Overcharge a customer for a good or service;

-Lie in an advertisement as to the quality or benefits of an product.

What should I do if I am scammed?

First, contact the person or business that you think has scammed you. At first, a simple phone call may be enough to resolve the matter, particularly if the issue is just a misunderstanding. If the phone call does not resolve the issue, write the alleged scammer a letter outlining the way in which you think you've been harmed (assuming you can find contact information for the scammer). Always keep a copy of all letters you write as evidence. Depending on the nature of the scam, you should also consider filing a police report. Compile all evidence of the scam you have in writing.

If warranted, and if the amount you've lost is $5,000 or less, consider filing a lawsuit in small claims court. You will not need to have an attorney to bring the suit in small claims court. The Illinois State Attorney General's Office has an overview of how to file a claim online and other useful information at

If you cannot resolve the issue through the means above, and the scammer is a legally existing business, contact and report the scammer to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Debt Collection

Under both state and federal debt collection laws, debt collection companies must treat you with respect and dignity, when trying to collect a debt. To that end a debt collection agency cannot:

-Use violence, threaten, intimidate, or otherwise harass you into paying a debt;

-Contact you if you request for them to not call you;

-Call your house or cell phone number before 8:00 a.m. and after 9:00 p.m.;

-Throw you in jail for your failure to pay your debt;

-Force you to pay their attorney fees, if the original contract did not provide for it.

Common Scams/Questions

How do I protect my information when shopping online? What should I look for before entering my personal information or credit card number to complete a purchase on a website?

Shop only at sites you trust.

Don’t make online credit card purchases from a public place. Public computers and networks are less secure so there’s a greater chance that your credit card information can be stolen when you use it on a public computer.

Protect your computer from viruses and hackers.

Make sure the credit card entry page is secure. Only enter your credit card information on secure websites. You can check a website’s security by checking the URL. On the page that you enter your credit card information, the URL in your browser’s address bar should begin with “https://” and or there should be a lock in the upper or lower right corner.

What should I do if someone I don’t know asks me to wire money?

Many scams are perpetrated via requests for a person to wire another person or business a certain sum of money by way of Western Union or MoneyGram. Often, the scheme will involve the victim receiving a check for a certain amount (which will be a fake check) with instructions to wire a certain portion of that amount to another person; the rest can be used to cover fees, or processing, or something similar. When the victim wires the funds, his or her money is gone forever! And then, when the victim tries to cash the check, he or she learns that it was a fake check. As a general rule, you should not wire money to anyone that you do not know very well.