Will Background Check Errors Deny You a Home?

A background check can determine if you can get credit, a job, or even a place to live. That’s why the law requires businesses that provide these reports have reasonable procedures to ensure the information they collect and share about you is accurate.

In a recent lawsuit, the FTC says a company named RealPage did not meet this requirement. RealPage sells tenant screening reports to landlords and property managers. The FTC says the company didn’t ensure criminal history information about prospective tenants was correct, and that landlords may have denied people housing because of this failure.

If you’re about to start or renew your lease:

  • Go to annualcreditreport.com to get your free credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. That way, you can fix any errors before a landlord sees them.
  • Give the landlord your correct full name and date of birth. This helps make sure he or she gets information on the right person.
  • If you have a criminal history or previous housing court actions, gather any paperwork showing how the action was resolved.

If a landlord tells you not to apply because you have a criminal record, that could be discrimination. If that happens, or if you think a landlord discriminated against you for another reason — such as your race or gender — contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development and report it to the FTC.

For more information on background checks, read Renting an apartment? Be prepared for a background check. And learn more here and here about the FTC’s recent cases protecting people just trying to find a place to live.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Legitimate Debt Collector and Scammers

Dealing with debt collection issues can be challenging—especially when you’re not sure if the person you’re being contacted by is legitimate or trying to scam you.

When an account like a credit card, auto loan, or cell phone bill becomes past due, the original creditor may attempt to collect the amount owed. The creditor may also hire a debt collector or sell the debt to someone who may try to collect the debt. While there are many legitimate debt collectors in the financial marketplace, there are also scammers who may try to get you to pay on debts that you don’t owe or on debts that don’t even exist.

Warning signs of debt collection scams

Withholds information from you

A debt collector must tell you information such as the name of the creditor, the amount owed, and that if you dispute the debt the debt collector will have to obtain verification of the debt. If the debt collector does not provide this information during the initial contact with you, they are required to send you a written notice within five days of that initial contact.

Pressures you to pay by money transfer or prepaid card

Scammers like these payment methods because they may be untraceable, and it can be hard for you to get your money back.

Falsely threatens you with jail time or poses as a government official

But beware, if the debt comes from the criminal justice system, it is possible that failure to pay may result in your arrest.

Says they will tell your family, friends, and employer 

Some scammers may try to get you to pay by threatening to reveal your debts to family, friends, coworkers, or employers. A debt collector is generally not allowed to tell other people about your debt without your permission. They can only ask others about your whereabouts to try and contact you.

You don’t recognize the debt that the person claims you owe money for

Ask questions to make sure the debt is one that you owe.

Asks you for sensitive personal financial information

Such as your bank account, routing numbers, or Social Security numbers. You should never provide anyone with your personal financial information unless you are sure they’re legitimate. Scammers can use your information to commit identity theft.

Calls you at inconvenient times

Debt collectors cannot call you at an unusual time or place or at a time or place they know is inconvenient to you. You might be dealing with a scammer if you are called before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.  

Learn how to protect yourself

Ask for a callback number

If you’re uncomfortable providing any information, you can request the caller’s name, company name, street address, and a callback number. You can use this information to verify that they are not a scammer before providing any personal information. Also, if you call back and the business doesn’t answer as the name they provided to you or it’s a nonfunctioning number, it could be a scam.

Make sure you have been given information about the debt before you pay

Make sure you have been given information or have received the written notice with information about the debt before you pay anything.

Contact your original creditor

If you suspect you are dealing with a scammer, contact the creditor the debt collector claims to be working for and find out who has been assigned to collect the debt.

Check your credit report for the account in question

You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting companies. To get your free credit report authorized by law, go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call (877) 322-8228. Keep in mind that not all debt collectors and creditors provide information to the credit reporting companies. If the debt is not on your credit report, that does not necessarily mean the debt is not valid.

Understand your rights

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from engaging in a variety of practices, such as misrepresenting the debt, falsely claiming to be a lawyer, or using obscene or profane language when trying to collect a debt.

Submit a complaint

If you have received a suspicious call or think you’ve been the victim of a debt collection scam, you can submit a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or you can contact your state Attorney General’s office .

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Scams Near You, by the Numbers

Every day, people across the country are telling the FTC what happened to them. Maybe they lost money to a scam, lost their identity, or just spotted something that looked fishy and wanted somebody to know. All of that information helps FTC and other law enforcement agencies investigate and bring cases against scammers. And, every year, we roll up all that data and give it back to you in an annual data book. Now, though, you don’t have to wait a year to find out what’s happening.

Starting today, the FTC is making that Consumer Sentinel data available to you every quarter. If you visit ftc.gov/data, you’ll find an interactive online tool that lets you find things like:

  • What scams are people reporting in your state, and how much money are people losing?
  • What are the top states reporting, say, prizes and sweepstakes fraud? Or other frauds?
  • What’s changed over time, from 2014 to now?
  • What are military consumers reporting?
  • How much money have older or younger people reported losing to fraud?
  • How are identity thieves misusing people’s information?

This new quarterly resource might especially interest you if you’re an academic, into research, in the media, or just really interested in consumer protection – or what’s happening with scams near you. Knowing about scams helps you avoid them, so play with the data, download it you want to do more analysis, and print it if you want to share it.

We’ll also be releasing periodic Data Spotlights on trends or hot topics we’ve spotted in the data – like the one released recently. If you spot something in the data that you find interesting, please leave it in the comments.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

New materials on cybersecurity for small business

If you own a small business, cybersecurity for small businessyou know it’s critical to protect your business from cyber threats. Today, the FTC launched new cybersecurity resources for small businesses – you’ll find them at FTC.gov/SmallBusiness. What better time to check out these new resources than now – it’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and this week’s theme is cybersecurity at work.

This new national cybersecurity education campaign grew out of discussions we had last year with small business owners across the country about cybersecurity challenges. We took note, and developed clear and easy-to-use resources that businesses like yours can use to learn about cybersecurity and help train your employees. The campaign is co-branded with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Small Business Administration (SBA).

The new materials include fact sheets, videos and quizzes on these topics: Cybersecurity Basics; Understanding the NIST Cybersecurity Framework; Physical Security; Ransomware; Phishing; Business Email Imposters; Tech Support Scams; Vendor Security; Cyber Insurance (with thanks to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners); Email Authentication; Hiring a Web Host; and Secure Remote Access. The simple format delivers information in a way that will make it easy for you to talk about cybersecurity with your employees, vendors, and others involved in your business.

Download each of the fact sheets from FTC.gov/SmallBusiness and use them to train your staff. Ask them to watch the videos and take the quizzes, also available at FTC.gov/SmallBusiness,. These resources are all free. Use them. Share them. Link to them from your own website. Make cybersecurity part of your business routine.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Hope for a Spendaholic

I have been married 40 years. I am 59 and a spendaholic. I have been following Dave Ramsey’s plan and trying to get my credit cards paid off. We have no money and no retirement. Is there any hope for us?
B.

Yes, there is hope for B. It might take awhile and may not be easy. But just because she didn’t overcome her spendaholic tendencies in the past doesn’t mean that it cannot be done.

Let’s tackle the problem on two levels. First, let’s look at the things that she can do to get the problem under control today. Second, we’ll look at the longer-range things that she can do to uproot the source of the problem.

B. said that she’s using the Dave Ramsey plan for paying off her credit cards. Good for her. Dave’s plan is very workable. It’s one of two common plans for paying off debt that are very similar.

Both pay the minimum on all accounts. One pays off the smallest balance first and pays accounts off from smallest to largest. The idea is that you get re-motivated every time you close an account.

The other ranks them in terms of interest rates. They pay off the highest rate first and work down from the highest interest rate to the lowest. This is the fastest way to pay off a group of accounts. But, you’ll need to keep yourself motivated.

Depending on how much debt she has, it may take B. awhile to pay down all the accounts. She’ll need some patience and determination. It took awhile to accumulate the debt. It will take awhile to pay it off.

At the same time that B. is reducing the debt level, it’s important that she stop her spending. She can’t get out of debt if she keeps spending, so that has to stop now.

Based on past experience, her willpower and good intentions cannot be trusted 100% of the time. So until B. can control her spending urges, she’ll need to use some physical means to assist her will power.

That means recognizing where she’s vulnerable. Is she more likely to be spending cash? Using credit cards? Ordering over the Internet? Or by phone?

Whatever the vulnerability, B. will need to devise a plan to protect her when willpower is not enough. That may mean limiting the amount of cash she carries or freezing her credit cards in a block of ice, so she has to wait before charging. Maybe she’ll need to block certain Internet sites or TV shopping channels.

Once B. has made it hard to succumb to her spendaholic urges, then it’s time to try to find what’s causing her to spend. I’m no psychologist, but I have worked with many people and their finances. Money is generally not the root of the problem. It’s most likely to be a symptom of something else. Often people spend in an attempt to make some emotional hurt feel better.

B. will want to look for a pattern to her spending. Is there a particular emotion that she’s feeling when the urge to shop is strong? Knowing what emotion goes along with her spending will allow B. to watch for the emotion, and when it surfaces, she can guard against spending. It’s a little like an early warning system.

She might also want to seek outside help. Many places have Debtors Anonymous meetings. Or B. could find professional psychological help to either help her find the source of her spending or to deal with the source once it’s found.

There’s no reason for B. to give up hope. She can make it almost physically impossible to spend. That alone will solve most of the problem. And if B. is able to identify the emotional root and deal with those issues, then she can be free of her spendaholism forever!

This article by Gary Foreman first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


FTC Sues Car Dealerships for Fake Recall Notices

A recall notice for your car or truck signals a serious safety defect that you should try to get fixed quickly. According to an FTC lawsuit, a group of auto dealerships counted on people doing just that when they sent fake mailers marked “URGENT RECALL NOTICE” to more than 21,000 vehicle owners, most of whom did not have recalls.

In the words of one defendant, the mailers were designed to “drive some traffic” to the dealerships’ service departments. According to the FTC, many people who got the notices called the dealerships tExample of a recall notice that the Passport dealerships sent to vehicle owners.o find out their vehicle’s actual recall status. Many who called were told they had to bring their vehicles to the service departments to learn their vehicle’s status and, the FTC said, a lot of them did.

The dealerships operate in Virginia and Maryland as Passport Toyota, Passport Nissan of Alexandria, and Passport Nissan of Marlow Heights. A settlement with the FTC prohibits the dealerships, a California marketing company operating as Overflowworks.com, and the companies’ principals from making any future misrepresentations about any vehicle’s recall status or other facts about its safety.

Here are steps to take if you receive a vehicle recall notice:

  • If your vehicle has a recall, get it fixed. Call your local dealer to schedule a free repair.
  • To check if your vehicle has a current safety recall, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, NHTSA.gov/Recalls, and enter your vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • If you have questions about the recall, call the vehicle manufacturer at its toll-free number.
  • Sign up at NHTSA.gov/Alerts to be notified by email if your vehicle is affected by a future recall.

If you think you got a fake recall notice, report it to the FTC. Let NHTSA know, too, by reporting it at NHTSA.gov or 1-888-327-4236.

To learn more, visit NHTSA’s website, safercar.gov, and check out our article on auto repairs.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Have You Contacted PNC Bank Yet? I Keep Getting Calls From Them.

Question:

Dear Steve,

Getting calls from PNC Bank every day. I am a member with you.

Have you contacted PNC Bank to tell them we are with you now? I have quit answering my phone because I get so many calls. I am really tired of it.

Charles and Bonnie

Answer:

Dear Charles and Bonnie,

I have no clue what you are talking about. I don’t have clients or any sort of membership associated with the GetOutOfDebt.org website or myself.

While I consider myself to be a caring and compassionate person, your question raises an issue I need to speak bluntly about.

If you are asking me questions that appear to be directed towards some debt relief company, it sounds as if you are not sure who you are working with. You need to be.

Getting out of debt and working with some debt relief company does not mean you should assign all the responsibility of your debt and situation to someone else. You need to be involved and aware of what is being done in your name or on your behalf.

Sending me your question indicates to me you are not as actively involved with the company you hired as you should be. If you are confused about this I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of clarity you have regarding the company and services you may have signed an agreement to purchase.

To answer your question, if you are getting calls from PNC Bank and you want those calls to stop then you should connect with the debt relief company you hired or contact a local bankruptcy attorney who is licensed in your state. Bankruptcy will legally make the calls stop and the debt may be discharged in as little as 90 days.

It is time for you to get organized and figure out who you are really working with, hired, and what you agreed to with them.

Dealing with your debt is not a great time to subjugate your ultimate responsibility for your financial life. It can be a good time to get professional help though.

It is time to get involved with the company you hired, whoever they are.

Best of luck on your journey.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Can the Finance Company Replace My Car Key Without My Permission?

Question:

Dear Steve,

Vehicle repossession due to default on my payments. The vehicle was taken while I was at work.

Of course, the tow man didn’t come in to make me aware of this so I had no opportunity to get my personal belongings out of the vehicle.

I made arrangements to catch up the payments and recover the vehicle. Upon retrieving the vehicle I saw that all my personal belongings were gone/ taken out of the vehicle, including my vehicle registration, tag receipt, and any and all paperwork inside my glove box.

I had newly purchased items in my back seat and trunk that were taken and my driver side visor was torn completely off and thrown in my back floorboard. They also presented me with a “new” key at the auction house where my vehicle was being held. They gave no explanation for this and simply informed me that my original manufacturer Honda key with keyless entry would no longer work with my vehicle?

I also was made to sign an agreement that stated I was responsible for the fee for the new key, an additional $125. My car tag was taken as well, and I was told I would have to pay a $75 storage fee in order to retrieve my belongings.

My question is referring mainly to the fact that my original Honda key will no longer start my vehicle and I was not made aware of this until after the fact.

There is no notice or clause in my paperwork that I signed off on when I purchased the vehicle. I was made aware and signed an acknowledgment referring to the GPS system in my original paperwork as well as their ability to “turn my vehicle off” for nonpayment. Those were the only two things I acknowledged and signed off for when I purchased the vehicle. I live in AL.

And have researched the repossession laws here for my state but I can’t find any information regarding events such as an entirely new key being cut for a vehicle. Would you happen to have any information regarding this matter or do you know if this act is even legal? In any state?

Thanks so much in advance!

Amy

Answer:

Dear Amy,

There is a lot of information here that is irregular, unfortunate and needs further research. To fight this you will most likely need the services of an experienced attorney who is licensed in your state. One place to look for such an attorney is to click here.

Here is where your situation gets difficult. The repossession or auction company should return personal possessions to you. However, if they claim there were none in the car then how do you prove there were? You can be both a victim and without a solution at the same time.

Of course, the key advice here is when you are financing a vehicle through a high-risk lender, like the one you describe, it is never wise to leave anything of value in the vehicle if you miss your car payment by even one day in Alabama.

The repossession agent has no requirement to notify you your car is being taken away, especially if parked in a public place. The paperwork regarding the title, plate, and other items were most likely removed by one of the parties in this event. You didn’t say if the auction house claimed to not have them. Typically this information is organized to go with the sale of the vehicle.

Regarding the key. Since the vehicle was repossessed without your key in hand they could have rekeyed the vehicle and opted to not go for the more expensive keyless entry key. You could visit a dealership and ask them if a keyless entry key can be made for your vehicle. The critical item here is if your old key matches the new key or was the ignition was physically changed or reprogrammed. New keyless entry keys are expensive.

And while I hate to state the obvious, the ultimate way to avoid such turmoil and expense in the future is to not fall behind on the vehicle payment, even by a day.

This is a good time to evaluate if you can afford the car payment or you are at risk of this happening again. If you are stretched thin and this may be a possibility again in the future then it might be time to think about reorganizing your entire financial life. However, to get to the bottom of that you would really need to consult with a financial or debt professional to uncover your financial reality.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Why is US Bank Charging Me an Analysis Service Charge?

Question:

Dear Steve,

US Bank recently started assessing an analysis service charge to my business checking account

I spoke to the manager of the branch who did not know what the fee was and was unable to show me in the signing agreement where I agreed to it while refusing to take it off. It is now a regular 45 monthly.

Frustrated

Answer:

Dear Frustrated,

The reality is the Analysis Service Charge on business accounts is just another fee that can be charged. One response by a US Bank representative said, “Fees can vary based on the state your account was opened in.”

People online say they have been customers of US Bank for many years and all of a sudden the Analysis Service Charge fee appears on their statements. Others say they have paid hundreds of dollars a month in Analysis Service Charge fees.

Issues like this are extremely frustrating. Money is taken from your account but little clarity is available as to exactly why.

If you go to the US Bank website and search for “Analysis Service Charge” it produces no results.

If you could ever get to the bottom of this you will probably find US Bank is attempting to add some foggy charge in an effort to recoup fees for services in your account. Some people say it is a fee for a paper statement, others say it is added for deposits or transfers.

For some scary reason, there are a number of US Bank statements that can be found online. Here is an example of the Analysis Service Charge section of one of those statements.

The clearest answer regarding the Analysis Service Charge comes from a document with the City of Spokane. In the minutes from April 2017, there is a document from US Bank who was trying to win the banking service for the city.

The US Bank document says:

Q: “Also describe the effective rate, method used and formula proposed to calculate the service charge credit or the earnings allowance on collected balances.”

A: “Earnings credit is based on the average positive collected balance for the month and the applicable earnings credit rate (ECR) for that balance. If the earnings credit amount is not sufficient to cover the analysis fees, the standard method of settling this difference — called the (net) analysis service charge — is to debit a designated analyzing account (chosen by the City) on a monthly basis. The debit occurs on the 10th business day of the month following the month of service.”

The document also says, “Except for small business customers, compensation owed U.S. Bank is generally the combination of (or, more accurately, the net difference between) balance-generated credit and analysis fees. Most analyzing accounts receive a monthly earnings credit, which is applied against analysis fees.” – Source

The reality is the Analysis Service Charge seems to be a fairly opaque fee charged by the bank. If the bank can’t explain how the fee you are being charged is calculated to your satisfaction then you can always find a bank that you feel will treat you differently.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Marketer of a Get-Rich-With-Amazon Scheme Settles with the FTC

The marketer of a scheme to make money on Amazon, and his companies, are banned from marketing and selling business opportunities and business coaching services under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The settlement order against Jeffrey A. Gomez (aka Jeffrey Adams), Adams Consulting LLC, and Global Marketing Services L.L.C. also requires them to surrender funds and assets for consumer redress.

The FTC earlier secured a judgment against Adam Bowser, Christopher Bowser, Jody Marshall, AWS LLC, FBA Distributors LLC, FBA Stores LLC, Info Pros LLC, Info Solutions LLC, Online Auction Learning Center Inc. (Massachusetts), and Online Auction Learning Center Inc. (Nevada) related to the same fraudulent scheme.

According to the FTC, the defendants, who have no affiliation with Amazon.com, falsely claimed their “Amazing Wealth System” would enable consumers to create a profitable online business selling products on Amazon. Buyers, however, did not earn the advertised income. Most of them lost significant amounts of money, and many experienced problems with their Amazon stores, including suspension and losing their ability to sell on Amazon.com.

The settlement order bans Gomez and his companies from selling business opportunities and business coaching services, and making false earnings claims. It imposes a judgment of more than $63.5 million, which will be partially suspended when Gomez surrenders approximately $2.55 million in funds and assets to the FTC. The order also prohibits Gomez and his companies from profiting from consumers’ personal information collected as part of the scheme, and requires proper disposal of that information.

Consumers affected by the defendants’ scheme are encouraged to file a complaint to add their name to the FTC’s case and visit the FTC’s blog about this case.

The Commission vote approving the proposed stipulated final order was 5-0. The U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada has now entered the order.

This case was brought with the invaluable assistance of the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, Utah Division of Consumer Protection, Utah County Attorney’s Office (Bureau of Investigations), Utah County Sheriff’s Office, Lindon City Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service, and Amazon.com, Inc.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.