Consumer advice: Verify all collection notices

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I’ve received several emails and calls from readers who have complained about an uptick in the number of debt collection notices they’re receiving. Many readers say they’ve never done business with the company claiming a debt against them.

Scammers know that if they threaten someone’s credit they’ll get people’s attention. People aren’t inclined to simply ignore the notice; many try to call to verify the debt. (One way to keep tabs on what’s on your credit report is to check it monthly.)

If you receive a letter demanding payment and call to verify the debt, make the company provide the information. Be careful not to give away any personal information. With luck, the notice you receive will have a reference number or account number: Give that to the representative you speak to. It should be enough to locate your account and to determine if you really do owe anything.

One reader contacted the debt collector and learned she did not even have an account with the company trying to collect the alleged debt. To ensure her credit report remains unpolluted, she needs to dispute the debt with a certified letter to the debt collector.

Consumers have the right to ask that a debt be verified. If you don’t owe the debt, you can dispute it. The debt collector must cease collections against you until the debt collector obtains verification or a copy of the judgment.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act sets the rules for debt collection. The law prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to collect debts. Check out the rules here: https://bit.ly/18HRnCG

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ONLINE SHOPPERS, TAKE HEED: Many of us appreciate being able to buy things online without needing to input a credit card number. But storing your payment information online can be risky.

Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox are among the popular web browsers that let users save credit-card information. Two reasons why you might want to reconsider using this feature:

1. It increases your susceptibility to hackers. The more data you store online, the more of a chance that criminals can access it.

2. Ease of purchase makes impulse-shopping that much easier. The convenience of clicking to buy might encourage you to buy things you don’t really need or can’t afford.

The same can be said for websites that allow you to store credit-card or bank-account information. It wasn’t that long ago that Airbnb customers had their accounts hacked and were charged thousands of dollars for fake reservations.

Always make sure that when you do enter your credit-card information on a website, you’re using a secure Wi-Fi connection. Don’t use public Wi-Fi: These open networks can give anyone on them access to your sensitive financial information. No matter what companies say about how their networks protect your data, always consider your online data to be at risk.

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BEWARE BB&T BANK NOTICES: A Coeur d’Alene reader received an email from BB&T Bank holding company informing her that her account had been suspended due to several failed login attempts on her account. The email seemed helpful: It provided detailed instructions to secure her account and prevent any fraudulent activities. While it might seem nice that the bank was letting her know this, there was another problem: The reader doesn’t have an account with BB&T.

The notice came on a Saturday. The email it was sent from seemed a little off, and the customer service number listed differed from the bank’s website.

BB&T has been hacked in the past, so it would seem that this is a phishing email designed to prompt our reader to start clicking links and divulging personal information. Good thing she thought better of it: She deleted the message. She wanted other readers to be aware of this email notice and to be on the lookout.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. Please include your name and a phone number or email.

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