John North, Dayton Better Business Bureau president, has various tips to help you avoid being scammed. CONTRIBUTED

Is a credit repair company friend or foe?

Americans across the U.S. struggle with bad credit. When searching for a solution, credit repair companies seem like a great idea. For a fee, these companies offer advice or assistance to improve your credit score. However, there is really nothing a credit repair company can do for you that you cannot do on your own.

Many scammers set up shop as credit repair services. They reach you through online advertising, social media or even call you directly. They often claim for an upfront fee they can replace bad information on your credit report with good information, improving your credit score. Some guarantee to raise your credit score. Others promise to remove past credit mistakes from your credit report. Or, they say they can give you a new credit identity. Unfortunately, they take your money and disappear or fail to deliver what they promise.

When searching for a credit repair company, BBB offers these tips:

• Know your rights. Get a copy of the “Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law.” All credit companies are required to let you know your rights to obtain a credit report and dispute inaccuracies on your own.

• Make sure the company consults with you before discussing any strategies to improve your credit.

• Beware of advanced fees. In the U.S. and Canada, credit repair companies can only collect fees after they’ve performed the services promised.

• Never believe any guarantees. No one can guarantee your credit score will improve, especially before they’ve considered your financial situation.

• Be wary if a company promises to raise your credit score by a specific number of points. A credit repair company can tell you the results that previous customers have experienced, but they cannot tell you how much your credit will improve if you use their services.

• Don’t do business with a company that promises to create a new identity for you. Likewise, beware if the company tells you to apply for an Employer Identification Number to use instead of your Social Security Number.

• Get everything in writing and read the contract thoroughly. Make sure it details the amount you are being charged, a full description of the services to be performed and completion dates. Keep a copy for your records.

• Consider it a red flag if the company promises to clear a negative report. There is no fee you can pay to remove accurate information from your credit file.

For more information on credit repair companies, go online to www.bbb.org or call (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301 for a list of BBB Accredited Businesses and Business Profiles on ones you’re considering.

John North is president of the Dayton Better Business Bureau.

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