Savvy Consumer: Ask Elisabeth

Answer: Unfortunately, if there are unflattering entries in your credit report, and they're true, time is the only remedy. Bankruptcy is one of the most serious "demerits" you can get -- even if you filed for good reason. A bankruptcy typically remains on your credit record for 10 years. What you can do is write a succinct letter to be placed in your credit file explaining the very real human circumstances that led you to file bankruptcy. Any bank that orders your report will have access to that letter and if often helps. Meanwhile, try having your husband apply for credit on his own, then make you a secondary card holder. Order your credit score from all three major credit bureaus. It will be somewhat different at each, because their records vary. If a business turns you down for credit, ask which report they pulled and ask them to check a more favorable one, if applicable. Finally, be comforted by the fact that credit scores change every single day. Every payment you make on time helps gradually raise your score.

Question Someone in Prague wants to share his wealth of $27.5 mil, (40/60; 40 percent give away). That comes to $11 million since he has no kith or kin. He says otherwise the money goes to the state. He is not asking for any bank account or anything. He is simply asking for my address and phone, to be contacted to send the draft. What do you think? Is this a trap or some money laundering scheme?

-- C.S. San Diego

Answer: Come on, C.S. Do you really have to ask? Perfect strangers just do NOT go around offering to share millions of dollars. I would like to edit one line of your letter. "He is not asking for any bank account or anything, yet." I suspect this scammer softens up his targets first and gains their trust, Then asks for their private financial information. If you provide it, he will drain your bank accounts. Period.

This is undoubtedly a variation on the Nigerian Letter Scam that I write about often here. It started in Nigeria and is now perpetrated by Africans living abroad, like in Prague, too. Americans lose hundreds of millions of dollars to this scheme every year. The U.S. Secret Service investigates outbreaks of the Nigerian Letter Scam. Go to www.secretservice.gov to file a report.

Question: I've received a few e-mails from companies outside the United States, and was asked to represent them here in America and to simply collect the money from their customers in America and pass it on to them keeping a commission of 10 percent to 20 percent for my service. What is involved here?

-- C.S., San Diego

Answer: This is a newer scam that is gaining steam. Scammers often target people who have posted their resumes on job search sites. They write to you and congratulate you for "getting the job." Then they ask you to deposit checks into your own account, and forward the money on to them. Beware! The checks you deposit are fraudulent. Many banks will initially clear the fake, so you think it's safe to forward the funds. Later, the bank discovers the mistake and comes after you for the missing money. By law, bank customers are responsible for the checks they deposit in their accounts. Many victims report losing between $500 and $2,000 at a time to this scheme.

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