6 Things I Learned Lying To Banks To Fix Your Credit
Your credit rating is the closest our society gets to outright divine judgment. "Sin" in some financial aspect of your life, and you'll be punished for all eternity -- a bad score from the credit rating agencies can keep you from getting a loan, an apartment, or even a freaking job. Almost as if, you know, the system doesn't want you to get your shit together.
This has given rise to a very shady underground market of credit rating fixers -- services that will game the system in order to lift the bad credit curse, for a fee. To find out just how far they'll go -- and it's way, way farther than you think -- we spoke to a guy who has done that very job. He's choosing to remain anonymous, for reasons that will soon be abundantly clear:
Fixing Bad Credit Involves Lots Of Blatant Lying
If you live in, well, pretty much any major American city or spend time on the Internet, the odds are good that you've run into signs or banner ads like these:
Feel free to flash the lights on and off and shake the shit out of your monitor for full effect.
Most of these companies are scams (that last guy barely got his Credit EMT license). The FTC has reviewed these sort of claims and never once found a company that can actually back them up. No one can guarantee they'll be able to fix your credit. So when I say that I fix credit ratings for a living, the first difference between me and those liars is that I absolutely don't guarantee any results ... which isn't to say I don't lie; I just don't lie to my clients. My entire job is lying -- to credit card companies, debt collectors, banks -- all in the name of improving people's credit scores. Or trying, anyway.
"No, sir. I'm not going to lie to your wife 'just while I'm at it' ... that costs extra."
First, some quick background that everyone should be aware of: Your credit score isn't set in stone. It changes constantly and depends on your past and current payment history. While the cheapest, most guaranteed way to restore your credit is by making a long-term pattern of good financial decisions and paying off your debts, that can take a long time and most of us usually ruin our credit if left to our own devices. So, you can dispute certain claims on your credit report directly to the credit agencies, or you can work with your creditors to get them to reduce your payments.
Or, you can hire someone like me, and ask yourself just how far are you willing to go? See, I've been doing this work on behalf of other people for more than a decade and, well, I tend to get ... creative.
It Mostly Involves Pretending To Be Other People
Sometimes I have signed agreements to speak on behalf of my client, so I'm allowed to call on their behalf and make financial decisions. But it's often better to pretend to be my client. Even if it means, say, faking an accent.
You see, most debt collectors, banks, etc., are willing to forgive certain things if you've got extenuating life circumstances and are willing to call them about it. So right away, I try and get a feel for my client's circumstances -- if they've got a pregnant wife or a sudden death in the family, that's a great start. But if they don't give me anything to go on, well, I'll just have to make up a more sympathetic life for them. This involves some acting.
"Yup; got hit by a meteorite of space cancer last month, and apparently his workers comp doesn't cover it."
My mentor's strategy was to use a big, fake Hollywood-African accent whenever he got on the phones. He just stayed jovial and friendly and sounding sorta like Eddie Murphy's character in Coming to America. It worked, because people respond to friendliness, and they naturally assume that no good-natured foreigner has the cunning to lie to them.
Which has me wondering just how many Nigerian princes they've encountered.
Me, I started acting like a dumb hick over the phone, and found that people really wanted to help me as long as I was high-spirited. It was the same basic idea: We have this image in our head of the naive foreigner, dazzled by American city life, just as we have a very clear picture of the good-hearted, honest-to-a-fault hillbilly, bamboozled by our e-lect-ricity and Internets and not cunning enough to trick a squirrel. As my skill with mimicry improved, my strategy morphed into being whatever person of whichever accent and age could help my case.
Don't ask why, but turns out no one can resist "Australian toddler."
I've done pretty much everything under the sun to get stuff removed from a record. The aforementioned pregnant wife is always good to try. I've also claimed my for-real disabled (in peacetime) veteran client lost his foot on a landmine to protect his squad-mates, and that's why sometimes he's late mailing in his bills. I'm not so good at faking a woman's voice, but when no one is around, I will try an old Jewish woman, or an older Hispanic lady. When I don't have the guts to call as a woman, I have female friends call in and help out by pretending, say, that their husband abused them and the kids, and her credit's only shitty because they had to live off of cards for a while until they got out of that situation, and now they're stable again won't you please help them? Sometimes I cry over the phone.
And if that isn't enough ...
Sometimes I'll Fake Documentation (And ... Other Things)
Of course, sometimes the person at the other end of the call will want proof, usually in the form of paperwork. So, I give it to them.
There are also little ways I can manipulate documents ("Hey, I wasn't living at that address when you sent me that statement, as you can see here"). Or my clients will have plenty of money, but want more time to pay for whatever reason. So on the phone, I'll be like "are you kidding? This guy has no money. You want to see this guy's Wells Fargo statement?" Then I mock up a statement in Excel, go into Photoshop to put his name on it, and boom. Suddenly he looks poorer than a landlocked African nation.
"If you garnish his wages, the best you can hope for is well water and rust."
Oh, and I once I drew a picture that I pretended had been created by a low-functioning autistic kid.
See, my client wanted a 30-day-late payment removed, because he had to close on his home and the knock to his credit was hurting the loan deal. So I call in and go, "Well gee, he has an autistic son he has to take care of, and the kid can't get up stairs well, so they absolutely have to get out of their three-story house." And they kept denying us ... just wouldn't buy it at all. That's what prompted me to do a crude, left-handed crayon drawing of a house and a kid next to it. I faxed it to them and told them the drawing was my son's way of begging them to help.
Yes, I look back on that and wonder, "Am I going to hell?"
But my punishment may not have to wait that long, because ...
The Lying Can Backfire (And Maybe Land You In Prison)
Let's address the elephant in the room: No, what I'm doing isn't always 100 percent legal. Just online impersonation of other people can land you between one year (California, New York) and 10 years (Texas) in prison. What I do is usually over the phone, and consensual (as I said, I'm doing it on behalf of the client, who gave me permission to speak on their behalf) so who knows what a judge would say. I'd prefer not to find out.
Unless he has terrible credit that needs repairing, in which case I feel better about those odds.
And don't let me make you think I'm some sort of smooth, perfect-lying conman. I've had a lot of backfires. It comes with the gig.
Let's say I'm acting like my client, Mark. Let's say he uses a small bank, and they know him, and they know I'm not him. They call B.S., and now the well is poisoned -- I can't do shit for Mark. That's happened a few times. I had one case where I was dealing with a car company for a long time, acting as my client over the course of several calls. Well, one day they called my client from the number they have for him on file. My real client picks up and, stupidly, says, "That's not me calling you; you've been talking to ". He knew I'd been pretending to be him -- I always clear that with the client in advance. But he wasn't expecting to get a call from them and he just straight forgot to lie.
"This isn't Fight Club, Mark; we aren't taking 'Rogue alternate personality' as an excuse."
And sure enough, when I called their company back the next day, they threatened to call the cops on me if I ever reached out to them again. It's unnerving when you do get caught. I hung up, shaking.
I had another client who was gay and his boyfriend/domestic partner killed himself. It led to a lot of depression for my client, which led to some financial errors I had to correct. My client didn't want to go through the trauma of explaining his situation honestly to all his creditors, so he contracted me to do that, and I did the shit out of it. This meant feigning mourning for hours at a time. I'd break out crying during calls when I had to explain his/my situation. I even put the call on hold a few times -- too distraught to continue. It was the first call I really pushed the envelope on. And it worked. Most people can't handle tears from other people in general, but for whatever reason, men crying really fucks them up.
I said to myself, "Holy crap, what can't I do by lying? This is unbelievable."
"Do you guys still do 'kids eat free' specials? Because I'm only this tall due to a glandular thing."
Yes, that's all kinds of fucked up. But is it more fucked up than that poor mourning person having to explain his lover's demise to a half-dozen different creditors over the phone? I don't know. Maybe? You guys are welcome to debate it.
We Serve A Surprising Number Of Wealthy Clients
On top of all of the awful things I've shared above, I also can't sit here and claim that I'm doing all of this in the name of helping impoverished people get a fresh start under an oppressive system. Over the years, I've dealt with some major celebrities -- musicians, athletes, people you see on TV. I've worked on their credit, and I've even pretended to be a few of them over the phone. One was a baseball player. The representative on the other end thought I was him, so we talked baseball for a while. Sometimes pretending to be, say, a famous musician means I wind up on the phone with a fan. This generally improves my odds of success, but it also necessitates more elaborate fakery. I've sent in false autographs to people to help grease the wheels.
I've yet to steal any groupies, but everyone needs goals in their career.
Don't understand why a celebrity would need credit help from a guy like me? Well, you've probably heard what happens with pro athletes -- 78 percent of NFL players and 60 percent of NBA players wind up broke just a few years down the line. Having money doesn't automatically make you good at managing it; you just go broke buying fancier stuff -- especially when you have no way of knowing how long you'll be making that money. There are a lot of one-hit wonders out there who were probably pretty sure they'd be making pop star money forever, and budgeted accordingly (or, you know, didn't budget at all). That situation is actually more common than the ones who sensibly figure out how to invest their short-term windfall into a nice, long-term retirement fund.
There's nothing sadder than a middle-aged Baha man wondering where it all went wrong.
And they don't even have to be broke to need help. I worked with one well-known celebrity who still had a lot of money, but just racked up tons of debt to 900 numbers and never thought of paying them -- that still can mess up your credit rating and make it impossible to get loans, or at least guarantee you shitty terms. Another rich dude I dealt with was in collections to a pizza place. They both had plenty of money but shitty credit because they were irresponsible children, and no one ever taught them that paying bills on time matters -- nobody cares if you have money when you get a reputation for not paying.
The point is that ignorance is, ultimately, as much a problem as lack of income. And that's the one good thing I can say about this job, that ...
It's Taught Me How To Game The System
First, let me state the obvious: Your best bet is to not get into a situation where you need a guy like me. Pay your bills before they go to collections. Watch your balances. Rotate a small balance on credit cards. I hope I never see most of my clients again because that means they learned something. Nobody comes to me unless they're in an awful place and think they're out of options. Sadly, many are repeat customers.
Secondly, remember that your credit rating isn't a reflection of objective reality as immutable as the tides themselves. It's a calculation made by a system full of people who make errors. About 25 percent of you have errors on your credit report and don't even know it, and that link contains information about how to get them corrected, if you have the time and patience (it involves filling out forms, and then waiting, and waiting). Even if you've been hit and miss with your bills, it's possible your rating should still actually be higher than it is.
"Just fill out these form request forms, and we can get you the paperwork you need in just six to eight business months."
Third, even if the black marks on your record are genuine, there are ways to get them removed -- but they all start with asking someone to help you. Human beings are generally pretty understanding, and often they do have the power to take it easy on you -- I'm living proof of that. I've gotten it done over and over again. The problem is most people start their conversations with debt collectors, banks, etc., the wrong way. It's easy to lose your cool and yell when someone on the phone is trying to take your money. But that's never a good idea -- most of the customer service representatives for creditors are OK people, and they'll work with you if you give them a reason to care. You don't have to fake it -- many of you did wind up in the hole because of chronic health problems, or a stretch of unemployment that wasn't your fault. Tell them that -- don't let pride get in the way.
But most of all, remember that you have options. Creditors will often "settle" a collection debt for far less money than you actually owe, if you push for it (though it depends on the situation -- medical debt is much easier to get rid of than, say, a Bank of America loan). You don't have to bend laws or start doing wacky voices, but you don't have to throw up your hands and be helpless, either.
And you really don't need these guys.
Robert Evans is the head of Cracked's personal experience team. He also has a twitter.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Bizarre Things You Only Learn About The US As An IRS Agent and 6 Ways Prison Is More Horrifying Than Movies Make It Look.
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