Credit reports and debt collection – What are your rights?

From jobs and housing, to loans and utilities, taking control of your credit is more important than ever. And, with the looming threat of identity theft, knowing how to monitor your credit is essential to protecting yourself from fraud. For National Consumer Protection Week, here is some information on your credit and collection rights under Vermont law, as well as tips and resources for monitoring your credit.

Know Your Credit File

Knowing what is in your credit report is important, not only for getting a loan, but also for protecting yourself from fraud. Identity thieves can use your personal information to take out credit cards and loans they will never pay back, and ruin your credit. You can monitor your credit a number of ways. Some of them are free, some carry costs. It’s up to you to determine the best choice for you. Here are some options:

  • Free annual credit reports – As a Vermont consumer, you are entitled to TWO free credit reports from EACH of the credit bureaus every year. You can get these online, or write to the credit bureau to request your report. If you have been denied credit, you are entitled to a free credit report as well.
  • Credit monitoring services – These services are generally NOT free, unless offered as a result of a data breach. When choosing a service, look for features that work for you, and research user reviews and ratings.
  • Credit cards and banks – Some credit cards and banks offer credit monitoring as part of their services for your account. Searching for a new card or bank? Ask them if they offer this service, and at what (if any) cost.

Collections? Know your rights!

You have the right to be treated fairly by debt collectors. Under federal or state law, generally a debt collector CANNOT:

  • Threaten you with harm or legal action they cannot actually pursue
  • Call you in a harassing manner, or after 9pm at night
  • Call you at work if you have asked them not to
  • Tell other people about your debt (other than a spouse)

You have other rights as well. If you have having difficulty with a debt collector, we can help! Contact us at 800-649-2424 or file a complaint online.

Sales calls, charity calls and scams

The phone rings, you pick it up and the caller launches into a well-rehearsed pitch. How do you know if this call is worth hanging on for? What happens if you agree to something over the phone and later change your mind? Under Vermont law, you have options!

Phone calls

The Sales Pitch: First, you have a right not to receive sales calls if you don’t want them. You can register your number with the National Do Not Call Registry to block future sales calls. This doesn’t prevent charity calls, surveys or scams, but it does prohibit other sales calls. Already registered? You only need to do it once, so if you are still getting actual sales calls, hang up and report the calls.

Did you agree to purchase something over the phone? For telephone and home solicitations in Vermont, consumers generally have the right to cancel for a full refund within three business days. If you need help with a phone or in-home sale, contact us!

The Charity Call: Many charities hire paid fundraising companies to help them solicit donations. In Vermont, any charity using a paid fundraiser must register with our office, and report how much of the donations received go to the fundraiser. You can find this information on our website under “Charities”, or give us a call at 800-649-2424.

Watch Out for Scams!: Phone scams affect thousands of Vermonters each year, and some victims lose a lot of money. Scammers are good at what they do, and target everyone. If you get a call and someone asks you to verify personal information, give a credit, debit card number or banking information over the phone, or wants you to wire money or send a gift card, it’s likely a scam! Hang up, and contact us before you give out any information or send money.

If you have questions about a phone call, or need help with a consumer issue, contact us today!

Your consumer rights in Vermont: buying retail and rent-to-own

We all get them in our mailboxes and on our doorsteps – those colorful flyers advertising the “Biggest Sale Ever!” or the “Lowest Prices of the Year”. We may see signs for a big “Going out of business – Everything Must Go!” sale in the window of a local store.

Sometimes the deals are real. Sometimes, though, the deals really are “too good to be true.”

As a Vermonter, you have certain rights in the retail and rent-to-own marketplace. Vermont’s Consumer Protection Rules prohibit certain kinds of deceptive advertising, pricing and sales tactics that are only designed to trick consumers into something they don’t want to do. Here are some examples:

  • The “Bait and Switch”: Ads feature a popular item at a great price, but when you get the store, all of those items are mysteriously sold out, and only a more expensive or inferior product is available.
  • The “Un-sell”: Ads draw you in for a great deal on a product you want, but when you get there, the sales person only wants to show you something else… for a worse deal.
  • The “Huge Discount!!”: Unbelievable discounts that turn out to be… unbelievable. Stores inflate the “former price” by huge margins to claim big discounts, when the real market price discount is actually much smaller.
  • The “Renting is your best value”: Rent-to-own ads that claim you can save money by renting instead of buying out right. Compare the interest and total costs to buying with cash, or even on a credit card.
  • The “You Won!” Contest: Shiny, official-looking ads that appear like lottery tickets, claiming you won a big prize, but when you go to the business to claim your winnings, all you get is a bum deal.

Don’t get caught un-prepared, know your consumer rights and, if you have questions or concerns, call us at 800-649-2424!

Welcome to National Consumer Protection Week!

Do you know your consumer rights? National Consumer Protection Week is a collaboration among state, federal and non-government organizations and agencies to raise awareness about consumer rights in the marketplace.

In addition to federal consumer protections, like the Do Not Call registry and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act that puts limits on how third-party collection agencies can contact you or collect a debt, Vermont law has some important, and sometimes unique, consumer protections.

Each day this week we will be posting information about important rights you have as a Vermont consumer. check back here, on Facebook or on Twitter to learn more each day about these important protections!

What happened when I went to do a credit freeze……

Recently, I went to visit my grandmother. She is nearing ninety, sharp as a tack and financially savvy. She manages her own investments (and those of other family members), and has a keen grasp of marketplace trends. As our talk turned to my work, the recent Equifax breach came up.

Following the Equifax breach, our office has been recommending that folks consider placing a security freeze on their credit reports. A security, or “credit” freeze on your credit reports doesn’t affect your accounts, but it prevents any new accounts from being opened with your information. A security freeze is the most effective way to prevent unauthorized accounts. However, it’s not something most folks think about on a regular basis, even those who pay close attention to their finances and credit.

I asked my grandmother if she had placed a security freeze on her credit reports, and was unsurprised to learn that she had not. So, I offered to help my grandmother set those up, thinking that I would also gain some useful insight into the process I could bring back to my daily conversations with Vermonters as they struggle to respond to the breach.

We decided to try, first, to set up the freezes online. We logged on to the Consumer Assistance Program website, where I knew we could find links to the credit bureaus’ freeze pages in the Equifax information we have posted there. I launched a new tab for each, and we began entering the information they requested.

For all of these, some sensitive information is required. You will need to enter your Social Security Number. If you are not comfortable doing that online (which we totally understand), then you may wish to call the credit bureaus on the phone, or write to them through the regular mail. Once that information is entered, they will proceed to ask a number of questions to try and verify that you are, in fact, yourself.

A battery of questions about my grandmother’s past addresses, credit accounts and relatives came up. These were multiple choice questions, and sometimes confusing. We had to think carefully about each question, as a wrong answer would prevent us from completing the process. Some questions offered answer options that were all unrelated, and we had to be sure to select “None of these” where no answer was accurate.

After we got through these questions, we were able to submit the request. In three out of four, we successfully placed the freeze. One of the four (TransUnion), would not proceed, and required us to call an automated telephone line. We called the number, and completed the freeze process on the phone in just a few minutes.

Some folks may find that they cannot complete any of these online requests. You may have to send in what seems like a lot of supporting documents (like utility bills, mail, copies of ID, etc.). This is likely because there may be conflicting information, and the credit bureau wants to make sure you are who you say you are.

This process isn’t easy, but it is important. If you find you are having difficulty getting through the process, or have questions, give our office a call (800-649-2424). We may not be able to come for a visit, but we are happy to help!

-Jason, CAP Program Coordinator