Credit 101

Credit can be a confusing concept. CAP wants to make it simple for you! This post is a guide to credit, credit bureaus, credit reports and more.

What is credit?

Your “credit” refers to your ability to borrow money and how much you can borrow. Your “credit score” is determined by your credit history, and suggests how likely you are to repay your loans.

What is a credit bureau?

As noted in our September 2017 blog post, credit bureaus receive regular reports about your credit history from banks, financial institutions, landlords, utilities, and even employers. The credit bureaus then put all of this information about your use of credit together into a single file — your “credit report.”

What is a credit report?

A credit report provides you with a detailed overview of your credit history prepared by the credit bureau. A credit report includes sensitive information, such as your Social Security number and history of employment. It will also indicate whether or not your accounts are in good standing and when they were opened.

How can I get my free credit report?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide consumers with a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months.

To access your free credit report, you can…

  1. Visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
  2. Complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
  3. Contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies individually:

Equifax: 1-800-685-1111 equifax.com

Experian: 1-888-397-3742 experian.com

TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800 transunion.com

Did you notice something suspicious on your credit report?

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting company and the information provider are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report.

To dispute an error on your credit report, follow these steps provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

What is a credit freeze?

This free tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. A credit freeze does not affect your credit score, it just protects your credit. Under a freeze, you can still access your free annual credit report, and it does not affect your ability to apply for a job, rent an apartment, or buy insurance. However, if you are opening a new account, you will need to lift the freeze temporarily. Lifting the freeze is free.

Want to learn more about credit freezes? Check out this helpful FAQ page produced by the Federal Trade Commission.

What is a credit fraud alert?

A credit fraud alert is a free tool that makes it more difficult for identity theft and/or fraud to occur. According to the FTC, when you have a fraud alert in place, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit. Once you place the alert, it will be active for one year.

To place a credit fraud alert, contact one credit bureau and ask to place the alert. That credit bureau will then contact the other two bureaus.

Are you suspicious that identity theft has occurred?

If you see items on your credit report that might signal fraud, you can file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission. Reporting identity theft to your local police is another important step in this process.

Signs of fraud on a credit report may include unfamiliar accounts and charges. The FTC provides a helpful list of other identity theft warning signs, including:

  • Inexplicable withdrawals from your bank account
  • Merchants refuse your checks
  • The IRS warns you that more than one tax return was filed in your name
  • You receive an official notice concerning a data breach that may have affected you

Questions about checking your credit and/or identity theft? Call the Consumer Assistance Program! (800) 649-2424

Open Enrollment Medicare Card and Social Security Number Phishing Scam Alert

Scammers are posing as Medicare saying they need your Medicare card number or Social Security Number to issue a new card or to verify medical information to keep your coverage active. The calls may also claim that coverage is expiring or in need of renewal. During Medicare Open Enrollment and all year, hang up on these unsolicited calls!

Listen to Attorney General Donovan’s Scam Alert call

Why they are calling:  This scam attempts to gain access to your Medicare card number or social security number to commit Medicare fraud and identity theft. 

What to do:  Never provide personal information or payment to unknown callers. Vermonters must be particularly cautious about this scam as the calls originate from a spoofed number, appearing as a local phone number on your caller ID, and the scammer is a live caller.

With open enrollment ending this Saturday, scammers may be trying to capitalize on consumers who are reevaluating or adjusting their Medicare coverage. Fortunately, consumers don’t have to navigate the Medicare process alone. In Vermont, representatives of the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at 1-800-642-5119 through local Area Agencies on Aging can help. Other questions and concerns about Medicare coverage can be directed to Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE.

Please help us stop these scams by sharing the information with someone you know. If you have questions about this scam, or have provided personal information to the scammers, please call the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424.

More Resources:
Federal Trade Commission: Protect Yourself Against Medicare Scams
Medicare Open Enrollment Scam Alert by the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation
Medicare.gov

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

Don’t forget to file your Equifax claim!

Were you impacted by the 2017 Equifax Data Breach?

Don’t forget to file your claim and take advantage of free credit monitoring services! The deadline to file a claim is January 22, 2020. If you would like to exclude yourself from the settlement, comment, or object to the settlement, the deadline is November 19, 2019.

For more information about deadlines and filing a claim, visit the Equifax Data Breach website. If you were affected by the breach, you’re eligible for free credit monitoring or up to $125 cash payment.

Want to know if you were affected by the Equifax data breach?

Visit the Equifax Data Breach Settlement website to find out.

“I was affected by the data breach. Should I worry about identity theft?”

A breach does not necessarily mean you are a victim of identity theft. A breach means you are now susceptible to identity theft.

Identity theft is the unauthorized use of another person’s personal information to obtain credit, goods, services, money or property (for more information on Vermont laws regarding privacy and data security, click here).

Identity theft may involve fraudulent use of credit card or bank account information. In some cases, your social security number and other personal information may be used to fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses, lines of credit, loans or other consumer accounts.

Additionally, you may want to consider placing a security freeze on your credit reports. This is the most effective step you can take to block unauthorized use of your personal information. However, it does carry some costs and can create some minor difficulty if you need get a loan, credit card or other credit account. A security freeze does not affect your ability to use accounts that you have now. Find out more about freezing your credit files below and from the Federal Trade Commission.

Concerned about protecting your minor children from identity theft?

The Federal Trade Commission has excellent resources on child credit protection.

For the latest information about the Equifax Data Breach, visit the Vermont Attorney General’s website or the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

Vermonter of the Month: Gary De Carolis

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Gary De Carolis

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

When reflecting on his 35+ year career in service to others, Gary De Carolis, Executive Director of the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County, said, “I’ve had a blessed career.” But the way we see it, Vermont has been blessed to have Gary serving as an advocate and leader in the fields of mental health and substance abuse. That’s why Gary De Carolis is our October Vermonter of the Month.

Over his career, Gary has served as a mental health counselor, children’s mental health professional, the Deputy Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, the Chief of Children’s Mental Health at the Center for Mental Health Services within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), and a consultant focusing on how best to serve children in custody in the context of their family and community.

Today, Gary serves as the Executive Director of the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County where he has transformed the Center from a staff of three with a budget of $175,000 to its current staff of 15 with an annual budget over $700,000. Under his leadership, the Turning Point Center has expanded its footprint and broadened its scope of services to better serve Vermonters seeking recovery. On average, the Turning Point Center serves about 3,000 visiting guests each month.

Gary gave us a tour of the Turning Point Center’s new location on South Winooski Avenue in Burlington and talked with us about his work as an advocate and counselor:

  • What inspires you, or drives your passion for your work with the Turning Point Center?

I’m inspired by the people who walk through our door every day. Talented, bright, courageous people. I’m in awe of them. To know that you live with a disease that you must be perfect with—one errant drink, one puff on a joint, or one pain killer for a broken limb—can set you into a spiral that could last for years. Courage doesn’t begin to speak to the incredible strength that I’ve witnessed for some 7 years now.

  • What is the most rewarding aspect of your work with the Turning Point Center?

What I find most rewarding is to see someone walk through our doors with a sense of little hope for a better life and over the weeks and months watch as they grow in strength to the point where the light of hope glows in them. It happens almost every day here. Providing a safe space, filling it with people in recovery to support our guests, and enriching it all with wonderful services are the ingredients for miracles to happen.

  • What is the most challenging aspect of your work with the Turning Point Center?

What is hard is when someone is so overwhelmed with their life that it is hard, if not impossible, for them to focus on their recovery. Lack of housing probably is the biggest determinate in keeping someone in the cycle of active drug use. Also, trauma histories can be so difficult to work though. We constantly recommend therapy as a part of someone’s early recovery so that trauma doesn’t end up being the boulder in their recovery path.

The other challenge, that is a part of all non-profits, is raising enough funds to make all of this work! Our staff works very hard and deserves a decent income with benefits. We have come a long way from when I began 7 years ago but we still need to go further. 

  • The Turning Point Center of Chittenden County has grown under your leadership. What are some of the changes?

We’ve placed recovery coaches in the emergency department at the University of Vermont Medical Center, and created a New Moms in Recovery Program for women seeking sobriety and maintaining custody of their children. We also have a wonderful Employment Consulting Program to make sure that all our guests who want to work get a job. All these efforts have had tremendous success. We have a wonderful team of recovery support specialists that greet each guest when they enter the Center to ask them how they are doing in their recovery, what we can do to support them and make referrals to other agencies for services. Finally, we have an elite team of 15 recovery coaches that are available for anyone who wants a more intimate relationship with someone in recovery as they go through their unique recovery journey. 

  • What do you want Vermonters to know about recovery? Do you feel there is stigma that needs to be confronted?

I want all Vermonters to know that recovery is not only possible, but that it happens every day. Please take the time to get to know someone in recovery. Listen to their story. Ask questions. I know you will come to see, as I have, that people in recovery are amazing, insightful, and determined people who we are fortunate to have as family, friends and neighbors. They are gentle, but tough souls and we are better for them being in our lives.

  • What advice do you have for other Vermonters looking to make an impact in their community?

This is always a tough question for me. We are grateful for the many people who donate to our Center. It is so helpful in allowing us to offer all the services we do. Also, recently we finished a capital campaign to buy our first building and renovate our space to work as a recovery center. I am so humbled by the community response to our asking for financial assistance. When people walk through our door, they all say this space is so respectful and dignifying. That is what we were aiming for!

For others, I recommend that you use your talent to help broaden people’s understanding of addiction and recovery. Some Vermonters are amazing writers, some our phenomenal artists. When I’ve seen those skills unleashed in this field it has transformed people who experience their gifts. I’m thinking of Bess O’Brien’s documentary Hungry Heart or Kate O’Neil’s articles in Seven Days and the obituary she wrote of her sister Maddie who was addicted to opioids. The group Twiddle who write songs about addiction. There are so many ways to help. Serving on our board or various committees of the recovery center is yet another way of helping. I always like Dante’s quote “In times of crisis may the hottest place in hell be reserved for those that declare their neutrality.” Get involved, and make a difference. It does matter.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Gary De Carolis in the Maddie Linsenmeir Room at the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County
Murial outside of the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County’s new location on South Winooski Avenue in Burlington, Vermont
Community meeting at the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County

Charity Fraud Awareness Week

October 21-25, 2019

Charity fraud is, unfortunately, all too common. But don’t be discouraged. You can still make your charitable giving count by following the tips below to identify the bad actors from the good:

Tip #1: Do your Research

Visit websites like Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau Charity Information for Donors to learn more about a particular charity. If you receive a call asking for donations, ask questions like:

“Who are you and what is the name of this charity?”
“Where is the charity located?”
“How would my donation be used?”
“Are you a paid fundraiser?”

Tip #2: Learn about Paid Fundraisers

Some charities hire paid fundraising companies to help them solicit donations. In Vermont, any charity using a paid fundraiser must register with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, and report how much of the donations received go to the fundraiser. Visit the Attorney General’s website to learn more and access donation information, or call the Consumer Assistance Program: 800-649-2424

Tip #3: Spot the Scam

Scammers use phone calls, mailings, door-to-door solicitations, and emails to trick people into “donating” to their “cause.”  

  • Phone calls: Scammers will pressure you to give money right away. They might ask you to send cash or wire money, and they will not give many details about what the donation is for.
  • Mailings: You might receive a letter in the mail thanking you for a pledge you never made. This is a signal that the mailer is a scam. If you receive a mailer that you’re unsure about, do your homework by searching online, or call the Consumer Assistance Program.
  • Door-to-door: When someone knocks on your door to ask for a donation, the pressure is on. Remember that you are under no obligation to give. Ask for more information and do your research. If you cannot get legitimate information about the charity, odds are it is a scam.
  • Emails: Think before you click! Phishing emails look similar to messages from legitimate sources and use email addresses that seem familiar. Be cautious with suspicious emails and call a charity directly if you have questions. Don’t use a phone number on the suspicious email; look it up separately.

Some common charity scams in Vermont include:

  • Pastor imposter scams: a scammer posing as a local religious leader asks you to donate to a cause using gift cards via email.
  • Fire or police organization imposter scams: a scammer calls asking for donations to a local or national first responder organization. If you get a suspicious solicitation, hang up the phone and call your local firefighter or police station to get more information.
  • Disaster scams: Scammers ask you to donate to a charity that provides relief for people who have experience natural disasters, except the charity doesn’t exist or they are impersonating a real charity. Always do your research before giving money or personal information.

Tip #4: Call the Consumer Assistance Program!

If you feel unsure about a charity solicitation or believe you have donated to a scam, call the Consumer Assistance Program! The Consumer Assistance Program can help identify warning signs, provide paid fundraiser information, and help you recover from scams.

Consumer Assistance Program: ago.vermont.gov/cap or 800-649-2424