IV.Support Services to Address Credit Problems and Prevent Revictimization

As a direct result of fraud crimes, many victims face additional financial burdens as they struggle to pay not only their own debts, but debts incurred, indirectly or directly, by perpetrators of fraudulent acts. Thus, many victims experience credit problems and, consequently, damaged credit ratings. In some instances, fraud victims are forced to declare bankruptcy to relieve themselves of fraudulent debts.

Victim/witness coordinators play a pivotal role in relaying information to victims on a variety of victim-related support services. Victims' need to receive information about available options for addressing credit problems is perhaps the second most critically needed victim assistance service, and it is usually needed as soon as the crime has been detected. The need for emergency financial referrals was discussed in Section III of this guide. The present section focuses only on service strategies and support services that address credit problems arising from criminal victimizations. The following information will provide victim/witness coordinators with an overview of several options that can help victims begin to address credit problems.

Victim/witness coordinators should also be aware that VOCA funds now can be used to pay for the development of fraud victim support programs and services. In some cases, VOCA funds can be spent on emergency financial assistance relating to consumer credit counseling and on other forms of assistance on behalf of the victim with creditors and employers. (Please see Appendix A of this guidebook for additional information.)

A.Addressing Credit Problems--Strategies for Victim/Witness Coordinators

While victim/witness coordinators are not expected to perform credit repair tasks that are the responsibility of victims, coordinators can nonetheless give special assistance to victims in dire financial circumstances. Victim/witness coordinators may wish to assist victims by taking these steps:

B.Addressing Credit Problems--Strategies for Victims

Victims can take several steps to address their credit problems:

1.Contact Creditors Directly

In many instances, if victims contact creditors (and in some cases collection agencies) immediately upon learning of a change in their ability to pay debts, the result may be a reduction, modification, or deferral of credit card or loan payments.

2.Consult with a Credit Counseling Service

Services provided by credit counseling services typically include these:

Some credit counseling services provide their services for free, while others may charge hefty fees. Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS), the nation's largest (and no-cost) nonprofit credit counseling service, has branch offices located in most metropolitan areas. Victims should consult their local telephone directories for the nearest CCCS office or call the national toll-free number, (800) 388-CCCS, to learn the location of the nearest office.

Local Better Business Bureaus and local credit reporting agencies are also good sources for consumer counseling referrals.

 3.Work with Credit Reporting Agencies

Being a victim of crime normally does not relieve a person of the obligation to pay both legitimate debts and the debts caused by fraudulent acts. Victims should obtain copies of their credit reports, from both national and local reporting agencies, for several reasons:

In cases where a perpetrator has been identified and convicted, victims should submit copies of restitution orders, liens, or other orders of judgment against the perpetrator for their credit files. Copies of these orders will add legitimacy to victims' written explanations of payment difficulties.

Victims should be warned of companies that claim the ability to remove negative ratings from credit reports. These companies normally charge high fees for their services, which basically amount to making a payment on the debt, with little or no impact on the credit rating. Nothing (except errors by creditors or credit bureaus) erases negative ratings from a credit report but the timely repayment of debt.

4.Assistance from Credit Card Fraud Units Housed in National Credit Reporting Agencies

Each of the three most frequently used national credit reporting agencies has a credit card fraud unit. Their contact information is as follows:


P.O. Box 740256

Atlanta, GA 30374

Fraud Assistance Unit:

(800) 525-6285


P.O. Box 949

Allen, TX 75013

Consumer Fraud Assistance Unit:

(800) 682-7654

Trans Union Corporation

P.O. Box 6790

Fullerton, CA 92834

Fraud Assistance Unit:

(800) 680-7289

The most common service offered by these fraud units is placing a "block" on a victim's credit files so that when new applications for credit cards are received, they are rejected until the victim is contacted to verify that he or she actually applied for the cards.

Requesting a block on one's credit file is not restricted to credit reporting agencies. Victims of credit card theft, credit card fraud, or personal identity fraud should contact individual credit card companies where they have existing accounts and request that similar flags be placed on their account records.

In addition to blocking new credit applications, victims can request to be notified if charges to their credit cards exceed usual spending patterns. American Express does this as a matter of course. Other companies require a written request to provide such notification.

Victims should request the names of those individuals or companies that have asked for a copy of their credit report in the last six months to determine the legitimacy of the request. Victims should also ask credit reporting agencies how long a credit file block is left in place and what procedures must be followed to extend it.

Depending on the nature of the fraud, victims may not be held financially liable for the debts incurred as a result of the fraudulent act. Victims should contact fraud assistance units, credit card companies, lending institutions, or an attorney to determine if they are in fact exempt from the debt.

C.Strategies to Help Prevent Revictimization

Fraud criminals relentlessly target and re-target their most vulnerable victims, often selling "sucker" lists to other perpetrators. It may be difficult to understand how someone could repeatedly give money to con artists, but for some victims, responding to fraudulent offers or investments is a repetitive form of behavior--much like an addiction. For others, such as lonely elders, the only form of social contact they have may be with fraudulent telemarketers, and experienced con artists target them for just that reason. These individuals need help to break the continuing cycle of victimization.

To reduce fraud victims' chances of being targeted and defrauded by criminals again, victim/witness coordinators can suggest several strategies. In addition to those already mentioned, the following strategies may help:

1.Remove Victims' Names from National Mailing, Marketing, and Phone Lists

Victims should be advised to send a written request to have their names removed from national mailing and phone lists. Written requests should be mailed to the following:

Mail Preference Service

Direct Marketing Association

P.O. Box 9014

Farmington, NY 11735

Telephone Preference Service

Direct Marketing Association

P.O. Box 9008

Farmington, NY 11735

Requests may take several months to process. A sample letter requesting the removal of victims' names from mailing or phone lists is included in Appendix B.

Victims wishing to remove their names from marketing and pre-approved credit card offer lists maintained by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion should be advised to mail their written request to the following:


P.O. Box 740256

Atlanta, GA 30374


P.O. Box 949

Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion Corporation

P.O. Box 6790

Fullerton, CA 92834

2.Change Phone Numbers

Sometimes a fraud victim, especially a victim of telemarketing fraud, may want to change his or her telephone number or get an unlisted number. To change a telephone number, the fraud victim should call a customer service representative at the local phone company, explain the circumstances, and ask that the number be changed. Telephone companies usually change the number once at no charge for fraud victims and may charge $20 or more to change the number a subsequent time. The change usually becomes effective within 24 hours. The victims should also ask the phone company about other options, such as how to trace calls from persistent telemarketers. When appropriate, victim/witness coordinators should write letters on behalf of victims to verify that they are in fact victims of fraud crime.

3.Contact Creditors to Close Accounts

When an account has been used fraudulently, the victim should contact the creditor immediately--first by phone, then in writing--to request that the account be closed and that a flag of "closed by consumer request" be placed on it. Replacement cards with new account numbers should be requested at that time.

4.Changing Personal Identifiers

Victims can request that fraud assistance units in national credit reporting agencies, as well as individual credit card companies that maintain their own credit accounts, change their personal identifiers or add additional personal identifiers, such as a name other than the victim's mother's maiden name. That way, if old personal identifiers are used, fraud assistance unit personnel will automatically be alerted to fraud.

Additionally, victims should be advised not to release social security numbers, credit card numbers, or bank account numbers without first verifying the legitimacy of the requesting individual or agency.

5.Restrict Address Changes

Victims can also request that national and local credit reporting agencies make no address changes to credit files without first contacting the victims to confirm the requested changes. It is not uncommon for identity thieves to submit new credit applications with a different address. In doing so, they are able to redirect billing notices and pre-approved credit card offers, increasing the likelihood that victims will remain unaware of new credit accounts until the perpetrators have amassed staggering debts and new identities.

6.Routinely Review Credit Files

Victims should review local and national credit files routinely so that crimes of identity fraud can be spotted quickly. Victims who have been denied credit are entitled to receive a free copy of their credit report. Victims may be assessed a fee for additional reports. Beginning October 1997, victims of identity theft are entitled by law to receive an annual credit report free of charge.

7.Maintain Files of All Financial Transactions

Victims should keep files of all financial transactions, including all credit applications, requests for credit file blocks, and changes of personal identifiers.

8.Notify Banks and Other Lending/Investment Institutions

Victims should cancel checking, savings, and investment accounts and obtain new account numbers. They should ask that their new personal identifiers be used to verify all transactions. Stop-payments should be placed on any outstanding checks or payments, and creditors should be notified of the reissuance of payments. Victims should not forget to cancel ATM cards and request new ones with new identifiers.

9.Report the Fraudulent Use of Checks to National Check Verification Companies

Victims should report the fraudulent use or theft of checks, along with the closed account number, to companies that contract with retail establishments to verify checks. Such companies include these:

10.Reject and Report "Recovery Room" and Other Financial Recovery Schemes

Previously victimized persons should be warned about "recovery room" schemes, which falsely offer victims a way to recover their losses from fraudulent acts--for a fee. Victims should be instructed that if contacted by an individual claiming he or she can help recover their losses, either with or without a request for payment, victims should immediately notify their case agent, the prosecutor handling their case, or the victim/witness coordinator. Federal and state justice agencies do not charge fees to recover victims' losses. Most often the person contacting the victim is a confederate of the original criminal. It is not uncommon for fraud criminals to pass along their list of fraud targets to other criminals.

Occasionally, victims may be contacted legitimately by a representative of a reparations board or state agency that helps victims recover their money, but normally such contact is initiated by victims. Victims should be warned to contact their case agent, prosecutor, victim/witness coordinator, or the state agency being represented to determine the legitimacy of the representative. Many fraud criminals operate in organizations with names that sound like those of government agencies.

11.Use Consumer Protection Agency "Fraud Alerts"

Victim/witness coordinators should provide victims with contact information to receive fraud alerts and other fraud-related promotional materials from consumer protection groups, such as the National Fraud Information Center of the National Consumer's League (800-876-7060). Through consumer protection agencies, victims can find out about current scams and tips and report fraudulent activities. (Contact information is found in Appendix C.)

12.Change Social Security Number

This action should be used only in extreme cases of identify theft, where victims' credit is so badly associated with bad checks and credit that repair is unlikely no matter what. Victims should contact the Social Security Administration to request a new number. Victim/witness coordinators should advise victims to provide their new number to all credit grantors, credit reporting agencies, insurance carriers, employers, state and federal taxing agencies, and departments of public safety (if the social security number is used as the driver's license number). Afterwards, victims should review their social security benefits annually to ensure that they have been properly credited with benefits transferred from their old accounts to their new ones. Victims should request such statements from their local office of the Social Security Administration.

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