1. They claim they can quickly fix your credit situation, no matter how atrocious it really is. These grandiose claims are one of the signs to watch out for.
2. If a company asks you to pay for credit repair services up front, that's a bad omen, indeed, because it's illegal.
3. Credit repair companies often discourage you from contacting the credit bureaus directly.
4. If somebody suggests that you apply for an employer identification number and use that instead of your Social Security number when you apply for credit, that's a telltale sign of fraud.
5. Credit repair scammers may advise you to dispute all the information in your credit report, even entries you know are true.
Do your homework:
1. If, after reading this column, you still somehow believe a credit repair company could be legit, then for goodness sake, check out the company with the Better Business Bureau and your county and state consumer protection offices. Also, type the name into an Internet search engine and see what comes up.
2. Consider disputing errors in your credit history yourself -- for free! Start by ordering your free credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com. Then follow the simple instructions for disputing inaccuracies.
How to complain:
Since credit repair companies operate illegally, contact your state attorney general if you have been victimized. Also, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, which does not resolve individual cases, but does investigate when it gets multiple complaints about a company.