Credit Repair Series (3 of 3): Credit Repair Agencies

In Part 2 of our series, we covered how to identify and correct inaccurate information on credit reports. In Part 3, we will discuss the businesses that offer these services professionally: credit repair agencies.

Overview and Concerns
A “credit services organization” (or agency) is defined under Colorado law as, “any person, including a nonprofit organization exempt from taxation under section 501 (c) (3) of the federal “Internal Revenue Code of 1986″, who, with respect to the extension of credit by others, represents that such person can or will, in return for the payment of money or other valuable consideration by the buyer, improve or attempt to improve a buyer’s credit record, history, or rating.” CRS § 12-14.5-103(2). It should be noted that attorneys acting in their normal capacity are excepted from this definition.

Not only has the State of Colorado taken the time to define this occupation legally, but an entire series of laws (known as the Colorado Credit Services Organization Act, CRS § 12-14.5-101, et seq.) has been written with an eye to protect consumers. The state legislature has summarized their concerns, “[c]ertain advertising and business practices of some credit services organizations have worked a financial hardship upon the people of this state, often those who are of limited economic means and inexperienced in credit matters. Credit services organizations have significant impact upon the economy and well-being of this state and its people.” CRS § 12-14.5-102(1)(b).

The savvy consumer should be aware that bad actors are present within the field of credit repair. At a minimum, remember that nobody can promise results. Other things to look out for include: payment up-front, offers such as “guarantee plans,” agencies that sell advice, etc. Most of the time when a credit report contains an inaccuracy, a savvy consumer will be able to address the issue themselves, provided they are willing to see the process through to its end.

Complex Matters
This series has been aimed at educating consumers on how to obtain their credit report and how to challenge inaccurate credit report information. A great deal of the time, a credit repair agency will not be able to offer you anything you cannot get for yourself. That said, every credit situation is different, and complex issues can arise regarding liens, taxes, and collection actions. If the credit repair task ahead of you is complex, credit repair agencies do have the benefit of repetition, and a reputable agency is one possible way to resolve complex issues.

Selecting a credit repair agency, should you decide you need one, is beyond the scope of this series. However, at minimum, savvy consumers should use the usual due diligence before selecting anyone to help them with any financial issue. A partial list of research tools appears below:


(you can search business reviews in the Google Local section of your Google+ account)

Better Business Bureau

Do your homework before contacting an agency: the last thing your credit horror story needs is a sequel. In the end, remember that when it comes to credit repair you will always be your primary advocate. Stay credit vigilant, and good luck.

Resources to give you more control over your online information

There are a number of resources that can give you control over what information you share over the internet. I have divided some of the ones I like into several categories including, tracking blockers, computer cleaners, and encryption.

Tracking blockers

There are a number of add-ons to your browser that will block trackers or give you control over what information you share. Some of my favorites are:


Do Not Track Plus


NoScript is probably the most powerful of the tools listed here. It will block all scripts from running on your browser without your consent. Not only will this stop trackers but it will also stop scripts, without you giving consent, such as ones that open popup windows or play flash videos.

Cleaning trackers

If you already have trackers on your computer, you can clean them with free programs. One good example is:

CCleaner found at:

Search engines that do not track

Search engines generally track you online. However, here are a few that do not:

Start Page

Duck Duck Go

Anonymity online through encryption

If these other protections are not enough and you want stronger anonymity online, you can use TOR. TOR is an encryption program that routes all of your online activity through three different random computers on its network. That, combined with very strong encryption, means that no one computer knows who you are and what you are doing on the internet. It can be downloaded at:

Other Tips

Social Networking sites, such as Facebook, are some of the worst trackers on the internet. If you are worried about tracking, you should access social networking sites in a different browser.

Play with the privacy settings in your browser. Not all tracking is bad and some of it is beneficial. Play with the settings so you can set them to protect the information you want while still maintaining the functionality you want.

What are my rights if a company loses my personal information?

Do breaches of my information occur?

Yes. While big scandals such as the Target one that just occurred are not overly common, companies regularly lose personal information about consumers. Companies can lose people’s information through carelessness, due to security flaws, hackers, or even from inside jobs by employees. In the last ten years, over 4,000 data breaches have been made public and over three quarters of a billion of records have been compromised. You can find a list of all of the disclosed breaches at and not all breaches are disclosed. Companies are not required to disclose every breach of consumer information. It is likely that many more breaches have occurred.

Your rights?

Most states have laws that require companies to notify people if information is lost. However, it is limited to very specific types of information.  For example, California, one of the more protective states when it comes to information privacy laws, still limits protection to only a few types of information. This includes a person’s first name or first initial and last name combined with a social security number, a driver’s license number, credit card or debit card number along with access information, medical information, or health insurance information. Most states do not protect more than this, and most of the information companies have on you is not protected by these laws. These laws primarily give you notification if companies lose information about you that could lead to identity theft. The state laws are different. You can find a link to your specific state law at

As noted earlier, the protections under these law are generally limited to notification. To continue with the example of California, a company that loses your information must give you the date of the notice, their name and contact information, the type of information lost, the estimated time of breach, if the notification was delayed due to a law enforcement investigation, and the contact information of the major credit reporting agencies. Your rights are limited to notice; companies usually are not required to give you any money for losing your information.

Do I have legal recourse if a company loses my information?

It depends. The notification statutes give you a right to sue if the companies do not notify you and you are harmed due to that lack of notification. However, it is very hard to prove those things occurred.  You might be able to start a law suit even if notice has been given. Some victims in the Target breach are trying to sue it for damages. For more information on the lawsuit see

How to Protect Yourself Online

The Internet: a place to shop, a social network, and vast resource of information. Yet also a place filed with malware and people potentially trying to take advantage of you or steal your information. Like a crowded metropolis, the Internet has many benefits as well as potential harms. Internet users need to be like savvy city-dwellers and avoid dark alleys late at night. Here are some easy ways to ensure you avoid the dangers of the Internet.

Install Security Software: Before connecting to the Internet, make sure that the information on your computer is safe by installing security software and enabling the software already installed in your computer.

Macintosh “Mac” Users (Apple Products using Mac OS X):

Make sure your firewall is active to prevent unwanted information from entering your computer. Click on the apple icon at the top left of your screen. From the drop down menu, select System Preferences. Click on Security and Privacy. Click on the Firewall tab at the top. Make sure the firewall is set to “on.” For more detailed information, please see this tutorial.

Encrypt your hard drive information using FireVault. While you’re in the Security and Privacy section, click on the FireVault tab at the top. Click on the button Turn on FireVault. For more information, read this tutorial.

Prevent Sharing. Back at the System Preferences menu, click on the Sharing icon. Make sure that “on” is not checked for any of the options. For more detailed information, look at this tutorial.

Mac users don’t need additional security software for home computer use.

Windows Users (Applies to Window 7):

Make sure your firewall is on to prevent unwanted information from entering your computer. Click on the start button, then click Control Panel. In the search box, type in “firewall,” then click on Windows Firewall. In the left window, click Turn Firewall On. If prompted for an Administrator password, enter it. For more detailed information, read this tutorial.

Many Windows computer come with security software installed. If your computer does not, install and periodically update security software to protect your computer from viruses and other threats. For more information on specific security software that work with different versions of Windows, read this article.

Modify your Browser Settings: Keep your browsers up to date! Security updates are included in browser software updates. When entering financial information or other personally identifying information such as your social security number, make sure that the web address you are visiting begins with https:// to ensure your information is protected. Regularly delete cookies and your browsing history. Additionally, you can modify your browser settings to prevent data collectors from collecting information on you through cookies, prevent phishing, and protect your computer from malware. Taking these extra steps will help protect your privacy!

Mozilla Firefox: This post explains how to change the relevant settings to ensure your privacy.

Safari: This post explains how to change the relevant settings.

Google Chrome: This post explains how to change the relevant settings to ensure your privacy.

Internet Explorer: Delete cookies by following this tutorial and change your security settings after reading through this post.

Use Pop-up Blockers: Pop-up ads are windows that automatically appear without your permission. Some appear above the window you are currently using; others appear below the window that you are currently using. Your web browser may have settings that prevent these pop-ups.

Mozilla Firefox has a pop-up blocker included.

Safari’s settings can be changed to block pop-ups.

Google Chrome’s settings will block or allow pop-ups.

Internet Explorer’s most recent version automatically blocks pop-ups.

Browse Privately: Private Browsing allows you to browse the Internet without your browser saving any information on the websites that you visited.

Choose to Privately Browse in Mozilla Firefox.

Select Private Browsing in Safari.

Use Incognito Mode in Google Chrome.

Enabling InPrivate Browsing in Internet Explorer.

Create Strong Passwords: Strong passwords will protect your social media accounts, email accounts, and any accounts you use for online shopping. Avoid common passwords like “god,” “love,” “password,” “letmein,” and consecutive numbers like “1234.” Don’t use common dates like your birthday, anniversary, address, or children’s birthdays. Do use combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Substitute numbers for letters, such as “kr0yw3n” for “kroywen.”  Do use phrases rather than single words, for example “blueball00nsareb3st.” Check your current password strength!

Click Smart: Familiarize yourself with common Internet scams! The Federal Trade Commission offers great tips on computer security and a blog full of information for consumers.

Know Your Coverage

The Affordable Care Act, which has  sometimes been referred to as Obamacare, added some rights and protections which allow consumers of health care to more easily understand their health plan’s coverage. Every health plan must now provide a summary of benefits and coverage (SBC). This document must be written in plain language and must be easy-to-understand. Here is an example of what an SBC looks like. As you can see, the document not only breaks down the amount of co-pays you will have to pay for various treatments, but also gives you coverage examples.

The idea behind the SBC is to create a standard document which allows you to compare health plans as you are shopping for coverage on the exchange. However, it is also a great tool to have when you are trying to prepare yourself for your next doctor’s visit. No matter if you bought insurance on the exchange, or already have insurance through your employer, every health plan has to provide a SBC. You can ask your insurance company for a copy at any time. Along with the SBC, your insurance company will also be able to provide you with a uniform glossary of all the terms you will come across in the SBC- to make understanding it a little easier.

If you are nevertheless struggling with understanding your coverage, call your insurance company customer helpline!