Category Archives: Things to Avoid

Here’s something you might not know about It’s Experian in disguise, trying to generate more profit from consumers.

The following quote is from: Fair Credit Reporting Act: How It Functions for Consumers and the Economy

“Ironically, all three agencies market products with ‘identify theft’ insurance to provide attorneys fees and expenses necessary to obtain the correction of their credit reports from those same agencies. Thus, consumers are faced with what can fairly be described as credit extortion. Consumers are told to buy the CRA products or else remain in fear that they will be inaccurate and full of fraud.”

If you have the time, I highly recommend you read the entire report. It seems the more I learn about the whole credit business, the angrier I become. If everybody knows that most credit reports contain errors, and getting those errors corrected is so time-consuming and difficult, then why are banks and employers and landlords still basing their decisions almost entirely on these reports and scores that are more likely to be wrong than right? I guess it’s because they don’t have many other options.

It seems like this shouldn’t be so difficult to get right in the electronic information age.

Identity Theft!

Just before Christmas I became yet another victim of identity theft. Somehow, someone who remains unknown to me cloned my debit card, somehow figured out my PIN, and made two rather large ATM withdrawals, emptying my checking account.

I have never loaned my debit card to anyone, and until this happened, I was the only person on the entire planet Earth who knew my PIN.

I don’t mind telling you that my bank is Washington Mutual and that they have been an absolute nightmare to deal with. I’ve been shuffled from department to department and am currently forced to deal only with a department mysteriously named “Fraud Prevention” who is only open 7am-4pm Monday-Friday and whose minimum hold time for actually getting through to speak with a person is upwards of 30 minutes. I have waited as much as 90 minutes to talk to someone. When I finally do get through to someone, most of the time they are not properly trained, and are unwilling or unable to explain the dispute process or assist me with my questions. So far, I have spoken to exactly one representative, named Diane, who was polite and took the time to explain things and answer all my questions. It was through Diane that I discovered the process of investigation can take 4-6 months.

From filing my police report, I learned two common methods crooks use to clone debit cards. If they’ve only cloned your debit card and are using it like a credit card to make purchases, then it’s likely that it happened at a restaurant. The waiter brings that greasy black folder, you put your debit card inside, he comes back and disappears for several minutes out of site with your credit card — and often, it seems, clones the card and uses it to go shopping after his shift has ended. The lesson — *never* pay with a debit card at a restaurant. Use cash if possible, or a regular credit card. Regular credit cards are much easier to deal with when you report fraudulent charges. Banks are suspicious and reluctant to help you out when it’s your debit card that’s used for fraud.

If a criminal has cloned your card and has your PIN, then it’s likely that the information was stolen at a gas station. The criminal parks a big truck in front of the pump, hiding it from the clerk inside and the security cameras, then in a matter of minutes, disassembles the payment mechanism, installs a card reader and a bit of electronics to capture your PIN, and puts in all back together. It’s impossible to tell that this has been done to the machine. You conveniently pay at the pump for your gas, your debit card number and PIN are stored for the criminal to come back and retrieve later. The lesson — *never* pay at the pump. Forgo the convenience and go inside the gas station to pay for your gas.

As if the ATM withdrawals weren’t enough, I mysteriously received an email from Washington Mutual, telling me that the name on my accounts had been changed through their web site. It said if I had not made the change, to call them at their customer service number (800) 788-7000. This is the correct customer service number for Washington Mutual. The email appears to have come from an address at, and all the links in the email, though I never clicked on them, seem to be legitimate links to WaMu’s web site — they simply go to I’ve seen phishing emails, I know how they work, and how easy it can be to be fooled. But this one really does not seem like a phishing email. I called WaMu customer service, they claimed to have no knowledge of the email, and referred me to “Fraud Prevention.” Ugh. Thirty-five minutes later, the person on the other end of the line offered no help, insisted I had been sent to the wrong department and suggested I call my local branch. The woman at my local branch asked me to forward the email to their email fraud specialists, and I’m waiting to hear back from them about whether or not this email is a fraudulent phishing email or not. I’m concerned that somehow someone has access to my accounts online and changed my name. I don’t know. I don’t know if this is related to the fraudulent withdrawals or not.

I do not feel like my money is safe at Washington Mutual. I don’t feel confident that if another incident of fraud occurs on my account that Washington Mutual will respond to my crisis with empathy, efficiency or concern. I’ve been simply cashing my paychecks and purchasing money orders to pay my bills. I’m afraid to deposit money into any of my accounts at Washington Mutual. I’m also extremely frustrated and upset at the horrendous customer service I’ve received.

I chose Washington Mutual to begin with because they offered me free checking without direct deposit. My employer does not offer direct deposit, so most banks are not willing to give me a free checking account. I’m going to start asking for an exception because I need to get away from Washington Mutual.

What You Should Know About Free Credit Reports

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) was passed in 2003. Among its provisions was the right for consumers to receive one free copy of their annual credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies.

There is only one source of free credit reports: the Annual Credit Report Request Service. This service was created by the three credit reporting agencies to handle consumers’ requests for their free credit reports. You may request your free annual reports through their website, or by telephone or mail.

Phone: (877) 322-8228
Mail: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

There are many other web sites and services claiming to offer free credit reports, but buyer beware. The others are often credit monitoring services that require you to enroll, fork over your credit card information before they provide your three “free” credit reports along with a 30-day free trial of their credit monitoring service that you’ll need to remember to cancel to avoid being charged. Still others are identity theives lying in wait of their next victim. So be a smart maven and use only the Annual Credit Report Request Service if you want your free credit reports.

Why free credit reports might be a bad idea

If you have purchased your credit reports and notice an error, you report that error to the credit reporting agency and by law, they have to resolve your dispute within 30 days.

If you obtained your credit reports for free, the credit reporting agencies are given an extra 15 days, or a total of 45 days, to resolve each dispute. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if your credit report is full of errors, then it can considerably lengthen the time it takes to get all of them resolved. Forty-five days instead of thirty is a 50% increase in the total time it will take to get things straightened out.

Keep that in mind. It might be worth saving the time and trouble by paying out a few bucks to get the reports. For $47.85 (as of today) you can purchase not only your three credit reports, but your real FICO scores based on all three reports from Also note that is the only source for your actual credit scores. Several other companies, including the credit reporting agencies themselves, will claim to sell you your FICO score, but as the calculation method used by FICO is a secret, nobody but FICO can sell you the real number. Smart of them, right?