Since the federal law mandated free credit reports, fewer than 25% of eligible consumers have looked at their credit files. This can be a costly oversight and could result in paying too much for credit. Additionally, the risk of becoming a victim of credit and identity theft is growing daily and about 50% of the victims discover it by looking at their credit reports.
Free credit reports for consumers finally became available nationwide in September 2005.
The free credit reports are a new feature of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), which amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in 2003. The new FACTA also provides new protections and rights for consumers who are disputing inaccuracies and, in addition, there are several new provisions aimed especially at victims of credit and identity theft.
There is a disconnect among consumers and small business owners however, when it comes to understanding the impact of FCRA/FACTA. According to some estimates, only about twenty five percent of the nation’s adult consumers have taken advantage of their free credit reports, citing unfamiliarity as the number one reason. The same is true for small business owners according to zTelligence/ MarketTools, Inc. and Fellowes Inc. (the latter are the people who make shredders). Their survey showed small business people still unfamiliar with FACTA and the significant impact it can have on their business. This is crucial because FACTA requires all business owners to properly dispose of personal information that is derived from consumer reports. Anyone that does not comply could be subject to penalties if found liable. The results were from an online poll taken in July of 2005 of over 500 small businesses. It found very few businesses are aware of FACTA. When asked what acts or regulations they had heard of, FACTA was recognized by only 13.1% of respondents.
The risk increases for the consumer and the liability rises for the small businessman, almost daily. Recently, ICFE received a call from a concerned consumer who had hired a home remodeling firm. She was shocked to find her entire credit card number and expiration date on a sub-contractor’s clipboard. She wanted to learn more about what the new FACTA law had to say about credit card truncation rules for merchants before she called the contractor to complain. Truncation of credit card numbers results in only displaying last four digits on a sales receipt. It is now law under the revised FACTA and offenders could be subject to penalties if found liable.
It can be both risky and costly to people who ignore looking at their credit reports. For instance, many consumers, even though they have never been denied credit, may be paying more for their credit because of a lower than deserved credit score. Their credit score could be hurt by a timed-out negative account, which still appears on their credit report - even though the law says they are supposed to drop off seven years after the delinquency was first reported. The lower credit score may also result in their paying more for credit. An inaccurate late-pay appearing on a report, as another example, could cause a universal default clause to be enforced, resulting in higher interest rates and higher fees, coupled with a lowered credit limits.
It is certainly risky for active credit users to avoid looking at credit files because about three quarters of a million more people will become victims of credit and identity theft in 2005. About 50% of them will make the discovery on their own, when they are reviewing their credit report. Those who don’t discover it on their own usually get a shocking letter or telephone call about a new - and likely unpaid - account they had never even opened.
Consumers and those who are also small business owners have a lot at stake given the rapid growth rate of credit and identity theft in America. Too many consumers will look at their credit reports and unfortunately will discover they have become a victim of crime. Some look at their credit reports and see unfamiliar entries and may think nothing more about it, whereas a trained credit report reviewer would spot it as suspicious activity and alert the consumer about what precautionary steps to take.
Despite many attempts by Congress to streamline the credit reporting process, untold millions of individuals will need motivation to look at their free credit files. Others will also need help in understanding report means, and perhaps more important, how it’s affecting their financial lives. If there are some inaccuracies, people may also need help and education on the do-it-yourself credit file correction process.
This lack of understanding and confusion by consumers about credit reports translates to having little or no sense of urgency about looking at a credit report, unless or until a problem arises. Researchers at Rutgers University discovered in the preliminary results of an on-line survey, about credit and identity theft, that residents of states which had mandated-by-law free credit reports were no more inclined to get their free credit report than consumers who resided in states where there is a cost. An industry observer estimated about 50 percent of the American people who get their credit reports are paying for them as part of some credit monitoring service with a monthly fee.
Some credit union members, military service members, clients of financial services professionals, including financial planners, insurance planners, debt and credit counselors are now taking advantage of a new service being made available by individuals in their communities who have become trained and certified by the award winning ICFE as Certified Credit Report Reviewers (CCRRs). The ICFE has certified over one thousand professionals nationwide.
Several credit unions have also had some of their counselors and lenders become ICFE Certified Credit Report Reviewers. Among the credit unions who are now offering credit report reviews and identity theft prevention tips to their members are; Navy Federal Credit Union, American Airlines Federal Credit Union, Newport News Shipbuilding Employee’s Credit Union, ABNB Federal Credit Union, to mention a few.
Pioneer Services, a financial services firm used by many service members, has a requirement that all their field personnel must be ICFE Certified Credit Report Reviewers. Additionally many of their personnel are also ICFE Certified Identity Theft Prevention Specialists. About 150 Pioneer Services representatives have been ICFE certified since 2004.
Military command financial specialists and personal financial management specialists from all branches of the armed services have also become certified and now offer credit report reviews through the Army Community Service, the Fleet and Family Support Center, and the Air Force Family Support Centers in addition to individual counseling and review sessions. The ICFE is an Official Partner with the Department of Defense’s Financial Readiness Campaign.
Certified Credit Report Review applicants complete an educational study program on the new FACTA law and learn the playing rules the Federal Trade Commission has established about credit reports, delinquency reporting, fraud alerts, credit and identity theft prevention steps and resolution procedures and much more.
After passing a written examination, they become certified by the ICFE.
The Credit Report Reviewer Certification program, which is being considered for college credit, is endorsed by the International Association of Registered Financial Consultants (IARFC) and also awards 10 continuing education (CE) credits to its members who become certified. The CCRR program is also accepted for CE credits by the CFP Board of Standards and Practices and the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors and several other national professional organizations. It is also endorsed by Springboard, Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management (credit.org).
Credit report reviews are latest weapon against identity theft and it's also a good method to maintain the highest credit score possible. Credit report reviews should be conducted annually for the average consumer, semiannually for active credit users - those paying on three or more credit cards and/or loans per month. To learn more about becoming an ICFE Certified Credit Report Reviewer, or how to find one in your area, contact: e-mail protected from spam botso.
For free credit reports under FACTA, call 877-322-8228. ICFE urges all consumers to avoid the web site request service because there are so many imposter web sites. To request a free credit report by mail: Annual Credit Report Request Service - PO Box 105281 – Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. The free service covers one report annually from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.
For more information about the Certified Credit Report Review Program please visit the ICFE web site at: www.icfe.info. OR contact: Paul Richard, RFC - ICFE Executive Director @ 619 239 1401.