To Catch a Scammer: Here’s How Credit Hackers Try to Steal Your Money and Identity

Debt makes people desperate, but you should never be desperate enough to click the e-mail address of one of the debt “hackers” promising quick credit score fixes in online comments fields.

My editors at The Simple Dollar do their best to moderate the comments fields and make sure that spammers and frauds aren’t preying upon you and trying to stealing your identity, money, and other valuables. However, that doesn’t stop shiftless cretins like “Eagle Eye Hack” from trying to sneak through.

Every so often, this individual (or someone purporting to praise his services) posts a comment in our fields claiming that he can fix anyone’s bad credit after just a quick e-mail conversation. Using the name James Todd and a fabricated e-mail address, we contacted “Eagle Eye” and asked for help. The first response read as follows:

I could repair and fix your credit permanently in 3 days and I’m gonna remove every negative/bad stuff on your credit report. All I need to get the hack done is your full name, SSN [Social Security number], and billing address. I am capable of breaking into the credit bureaus and can guarantee you a golden score higher than the 750 excellent grade. This service will cost you a little. Get back to me with the required info so we can get the hack started immediately

Adam Levin, founder of online security and credit-protection firm CyberScout and author of the book “Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves,” says that e-mail alone is a giant warning sign. There are legitimate credit repair organizations that exist under the Federal Trade Commission’s Credit Repair Organization Act, but they typically won’t ask you for that level of information up front.

“Don’t go to some e-mail address that is connected to some murkily identified organization and never, ever provide information of a personal information by way of e-mail to anyone,” Levin says.

But not everyone obeys that warning. We dug a bit deeper and asked what “this service will cost you a little” meant. This was their response:

The hack is gonna cost $770 and you’ll be making a down payment of of $540. The down payment you’re making is for me to be able to get the required tools necessary to run the entire hack without the smallest trace and yeah it’s a one time fee.

That’s yet another bad sign. As Levin points out, a legitimate credit repair organization will never ask for money up front, nor will they ask for a “down payment” like a guy in a pool hall who just asked you to make the next game “interesting.” The minute someone asks you for an upfront fee for anything shy of an attorney’s retainer, Levin suggests running fast and far.

“You do not pay money in advance for services,” he says. “If you are solicited by somebody, do the investigation: Go online and research the name of the entity. If they don’t give you an name and only give you an e-mail address, you don’t want to deal with that company.”

The simplest failsafe when dealing with “credit hackers” or anyone else making these claims is to search their name on Google or any other search engine. Actual credit repair organizations have to identify themselves. Even if they have a website, check the formatting and even check the grammar on the site to make sure it isn’t wonky. Even if that all checks out, Levin suggests checking the company’s reviews on other sites. Don’t just look at the good reviews, either: Look at both the volume and content of bad reviews.

“In a world where security breaches are the third certainty in life now, you’re dealing persistent and creative people who count on the fact that we all have day jobs and aren’t focused,” Levin says. “When you deal with someone who is a scammer or identity thief, you are their day job. You’re facing off against somebody who’s pretty good at what they do.”

In the case of our spammer, they were willing to settle for a lesser down payment. However, they also wanted us to pay them electronically, which meant we’d be giving them our name, address, Social Security number, and credit card information all in one package. What made them think we’d do such a thing? The same reason that automated phone scammers call people and tell them they have the answer to their debt issues (whether they have debt or not): They know there’s a lot of debt out there.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York put total household debt at $13.15 trillion at the end of 2017. That included $1.4 trillion in student loan debt (9.3% of it past due), $834 billion in credit card debt (4.6% of it past due), and $8.9 billion in mortgage debt (1.1% past due). According to credit firm Experian, more than 21% of U.S. consumers have “deep subprime” credit scores of 550 or less.

Scammers roll the dice and figure that even if most people don’t respond to their offers, enough people with debt will take them up on it to make it worthwhile. Even if they get less than $400 — as they would have from us had we gone though with the deal — they can find far more value in non-monetary transactions.

“When it comes to a hacker or scammer, every one of us is Kim Kardashian,” Levin says. “We have what they want: We either have money or data, and the data is the new currency.”

That’s why we can’t stress this enough: Don’t buy what they’re selling. If you see these scammers in comments fields, report them. If you see e-mail addresses in their pitches, ignore them. If curiosity gets the better of you, don’t part with any personal information.

We realize that times are tough out there, and that many folks struggling with finances can use all the help they can get. “Credit hackers” aren’t there to help you, they exist to help themselves to the resources and life you’ve built.

“People respond, because often people are desperate,” Levin says, and you don’t need good credit or finances to be a profitable mark for a scammer. “All they want to do is get their hands on your Social Security number, because they can combine that with information from other people, create a subfile and go off to the races.”

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Jason Notte

Contributor for The Simple Dollar

A former personal finance reporter at TheStreet and columnist for MarketWatch, Jason Notte’s work has appeared in many other outlets, including The Newark Star-Ledger, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and The Boston Globe. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S. and the layout editor for Boston Now, among other roles at various publications.