The truth about credit repair companies
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The letter in Brenda Bell's hand reads, "Dear valued customer, Thanks for allowing us to assist you with repairing your credit."
Like many Americans, Bell's money problems have hurt her credit score. So she decided to call Hargrave & Associates after a friend told her about the credit repair company.
"They said some of the things that were on my credit, they were going to take them off," she explained.
For $250 upfront, the Florida-based business promised Bell it would raise her credit score in six months. Her credit score never changed.
"When I would call to check about my credit score, the phone would always get disconnected," she said.
NewsChannel 36 tried calling Hargrave & Associates, but the phone number was no longer working.
The North Carolina Attorney General's Office has demanded Hargrave & Associates to stop doing business here.
"When consumers are hurting and we're in tough economic times, the scam artists will crawl out underneath rocks and see this as an opportunity to prey on consumers who are desperate," said Attorney General Roy Cooper.
NewsChannel 36 put our hidden cameras to work to find out what you're really being told when you call one of these credit repair companies advertised on signs around Charlotte.
Our producer asked, "If I wanted to increase my credit score, I would have to pay $69.95 up front?"
The marketing director said, "You would have to pay $69.95 plus your first month. You'd have to do that up front."
Our producer asked, "Isn't it against the law to charge a fee though to repair your credit?"
The marketing director said, "It's against the law to charge a fee up front, but with our program, not only are you getting the credit, you're getting all these other services along with it. It's a membership driven program."
She added, "You're actually paying for your membership and all of these services are included in the membership. That's what our fee is for."
The attorney general's office explained, "If the business is advertising credit repair services and that's what the consumer is seeking, then the law should apply, regardless of what the credit repair company wants to call it."
"As soon as we get wind of someone out there who is doing it we work very hard to take action and try to stop it," said Cooper.
Bell is hoping she'll get her money back from Hargrave & Associates. In the meantime, she's learned there's only one way to improve her situation.
"If you want to improve your credit you have to do it on your own," she said.
The attorney general is now looking into the company we talked too. We'll continue to follow the investigation and let you know what happens.
There are things you can do to fix your credit and it won't cost you a dime, .