Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN)

Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN) – SmartAsset

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If you’re looking to repair your credit, you may have come across websites that advertise a credit privacy number, credit protection number or CPN. These numbers are nine digits like a Social Security number (SSN), and sellers claim that you can use them instead of your SSN. However, these CPNs are often actual SSNs lifted from real people, reportedly children, prison inmates and the deceased – and you can never legally buy a new SSN. In other words, a CPN is no solution to your credit rating problem. Under no circumstances should you try to buy a CPN.

Why a CPN is No Credit Fix

Websites have sprung up all over the internet, offering CPNs to people with bad credit or low credit scores. They advertise that this number can serve as a “get out of jail free” card for your bad credit. In theory, you can use a CPN instead of your SSN on credit applications to hide the poor credit associated with your personal SSN. If you have bad credit but still need a credit card or loan, this can seem like the solution, assuming you can pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

That price might seem worth it for a chance to wipe the slate clean. However, these offers are essentially a big scam. The CPNs you can buy online are not legally assigned credit protection numbers. Instead, they are usually stolen Social Security numbers, taken from children, the deceased or inmates.

Also, using a purchased CPN puts you in some hot water, too. Credit agencies can easily spot discrepancies if you try to use a CPN on an application instead of your SSN. Not only will this fail to help your credit, but it’s also committing fraud which is punishable by jail time.

How to Avoid CPN Scams 

If you’re dealing with some bad credit, don’t turn to a CPN. Only scammers sell CPNs, and they in turn may cheat you out of your personal information as well as hundreds or thousands of dollars. Using a purchased CPN can also put you in jail, even if you didn’t know the number was fraudulent. This is why it’s important to be aware of this popular scam.

If you really need a CPN or new SSN, it will be free. The process will go through the Social Security Administration Office, since a new number would be tied to your old SSN. That said, it is very hard to qualify to receive a new number. Having bad credit is never a qualifying reason.

How to Get a Legal CPN

With so many fraudulent websites and companies trying to sell you a way to reset your credit, it’s hard to know how to get a legal CPN. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Some experts say that you can speak with an attorney to obtain a legal CPN. The attorney can then contact the Social Security Administration Office on your behalf. However, others maintain that all CPNs are illegal.

Generally, it seems that you cannot get a legal CPN unless you actually need one. These situations include celebrities, government officials and people under witness protection. You can also apply in other specific instances, like if you’re a victim of abuse, stalking or identity theft. A real CPN would be attached to your SSN, so it’s still not an escape from the credit tied to your SSN.

You may also stumble upon offers to obtain an EIN, or Employer Identification Number. The IRS does issue EINs, but only businesses can use them for business costs. This means that you cannot legally obtain an EIN as an individual looking to improve your credit. You also cannot make up a home business, apply for an EIN and use that new number for a credit reset. It is a federal crime to obtain an EIN under false pretenses. In any case, the credit profile for your EIN is still tied to your SSN.

Bottom Line

You shouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, try to purchase a CPN. These offers are fraudulent and don’t provide any credit repair or relief. At the very least, buying a CPN wastes money you should put towards repaying your loans in the first place. At worst, you could go to jail for fraud. There are better, more constructive ways to repair your credit. If you’re truly in a situation that calls for a CPN, contact your lawyer for assistance.

Tips on Rebuilding Your Credit 

  • Of course, the best way to legally clean up your credit is to pay back your debts and improve your credit practices. A good place to start is to pay off your credit card debt with the highest interest.
  • Sometimes you’ll just have to wait for your bad history to fall off your record. Generally, negative info stays on your credit report for seven years. If you can’t get a debt collection removed from your credit report, for example, it’ll stay there for seven years. However, as time goes on, the toll it takes on your report lessens.
  • Don’t go it alone. If you have a good income, but you’re just bad at managing your money, a financial advisor can help. With guidance, you can make smarter choices – and even start growing your wealth. To find an advisor, use our free, no-obligation matching tool. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

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Danielle Klimashousky Danielle Klimashousky is a freelance writer who covers a variety of personal finance topics for SmartAsset. She is an expert on topics including credit cards and home buying. Danielle has a BA in English from Wesleyan University.
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The Average Cost of a Divorce

The Average Cost of a Divorce – SmartAsset

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Even the most amicable of divorces generally involve some kind of expense. The average cost of a divorce varies greatly based on how complicated the case is and on the kind of divorce you seek. At the very least you’ll have to pay court costs and filing fees for divorce paperwork. But if lawyers are involved, costs can balloon from a few hundred dollars to several thousand or even tens of thousands of dollars. The cost of getting a divorce can exceed the average cost of a wedding. 

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The Average Cost of a Pro Se Divorce

A pro se litigant is someone who represents himself or herself. While you can do this in a divorce case, legal professionals advise against it. However, in the case of a collaborative, uncontested divorce both parties may work together for a pro se divorce. This could mean using a “divorce kit” and working together to get the divorce filed and granted. In this scenario, the average cost of a pro se divorce could be as low as $300.

Working through the divorce paperwork on your own and filing the papers with the courts yourself (as opposed to hiring a lawyer to help you with both steps) can save you thousands. However, this simplest form of divorce only works in simple cases. If there are children involved or complicated assets to split, cheap and easy is probably not an option.

Related Article: 4 Things to Know About Splitting Up a 401(k) in a Divorce

The Average Cost of Divorce Mediation

Another way to save on the costs of a divorce is to turn to a mediator instead of enlisting the services of lawyers. Particularly if you’re embarking on an uncontested divorce, a mediated divorce can be a much less costly option that a litigated divorce. Again, this option works best when matters are relatively uncomplicated and both parties are willing to cooperate.

You can employ a mediator who works with each party one-on-one and aids in communication between the two parties. Alternatively, both parties can sit down with the mediator and hammer out the details collaboratively. Private mediation can be billed using a flat fee or an hourly rate. Mediators generally charge lower hourly rates than lawyers, but the cost can still add up if the process drags on. The hourly rate for private divorce mediators is generally between $100 and $200.

Even if a divorce goes to trial the judge may order both parties to go to mediation. Court-ordered mediation is free to both parties and is non-binding. However, if you retain the services of a lawyer in a contested divorce and are then ordered to go to mediation, you will still run up legal bills for the work your attorney does to advise you and monitor the mediation process. Your lawyer will also bill you for the time spent revising the settlement reached in mediation.

Related Article: 5 Ways Getting Married Affects Your Tax Bill

The Average Cost of a Contested Divorce

A contested, litigated divorce is the most expensive route. Costs can go as high as $50,000, or higher if wealthy parties and expensive lawyers are involved. Typically, divorce lawyers will charge an hourly rate of $250, but this can vary based on the firm and the city (rates are higher in expensive cities).

Parties in a divorce can decide whether they want full representation, or if they want a more limited service such as an initial consultation or an attorney review of a settlement reached in mediation. The average cost of a litigated divorce is around $15,000. Attorney fees (which are generally not tax-deductible) aren’t the only costs. You may need to hire an accountant to assess the assets that are being divided, or hire an appraiser to value the family home. Counseling for both parties (and any children involved) may also be necessary. There are court fees to pay as well.

Many divorces settle, curtailing the costly trial process. Naturally, cases that settle out of court tend to carry a lower average price tag than divorces with a protracted trial. Regardless, you’ll have some up-front costs. Clients pay a retainer when they first find a lawyer to help them through the divorce process.

Bottom Line

For many who divorce, the process carries high emotional and financial costs. The emotional stakes and the amount of money on the line – both in assets and attorney fees – are good reasons to seek skilled help, whether from a mediator or a lawyer. Do your research before committing to either.

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Amelia Josephson Amelia Josephson is a writer passionate about covering financial literacy topics. Her areas of expertise include retirement and home buying. Amelia’s work has appeared across the web, including on AOL, CBS News and The Simple Dollar. She holds degrees from Columbia and Oxford. Originally from Alaska, Amelia now calls Brooklyn home.
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Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card? – SmartAsset

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Signing the back of your credit card is an important security step for protecting your card’s information if it should fall into the wrong hands. Merchants are supposed to check that the signature on the card matches the signature on the sales receipt as a security precaution. If a card has no signature on the back, they aren’t required to process the ensuing payment.

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

Signing the back of your credit card is always better than not, without exception. It’s another step provided by your credit card company to try and keep your personal information as safe as possible. When used in conjunction with the card verification value (CVV) on your card, it creates a line of defense should a fraudster try to swipe your plastic.

While the signature itself doesn’t protect you, the ability for a salesman to match it to your existing official signatures is where its value lies. This is done most commonly with your driver’s license, or if you’re abroad, your passport is a fine stand-in. In other words, taking a few seconds to sign that little black or white strip could be the difference between your identity being stolen and not.

Here’s a look at how the major credit payment networks handle unsigned cards:

Mastercard

Mastercard urges merchants in its payment network not to accept charges from customers with unsigned credit cards. On the back of every Mastercard, it even says “not valid unless signed.”

The company tries to instill in merchants that they should not process customer transactions unless the customer’s signature appears in the signature space on the back of the card.

If the card has no signature, merchants are to request the customer sign the card. A merchant also will need to see a confirming form of identification.

Visa

At Visa, merchants must verify that the signature on the back of any card matches the customer’s signature on the transaction receipt and any identification. They want to know you are who you say you are and recreating the same signature on demand when you sign for a credit card transaction is one way to do it.

Visa considers an unsigned credit card to be invalid. The words “Not Valid Without Signature” appear above, below or beside the signature panel on all Visa cards. Turn over the card and you’ll see it. And like Mastercard, Visa urges merchants not to accept unsigned credit cards.

When a customer presents an unsigned Visa card to a merchant for payment, Visa requires a merchant to check the customer’s identification by requesting a government-issued form of ID.

Where permissible by state law, the Visa merchant may also write the customer’s ID serial number and expiration date on the sales receipt. (Beginning in California in 1971, the recording of personal information during credit card transactions has become illegal, with the passage of the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act.)

Visa also instructs merchants to ask the customer to sign the card, within full view of the merchant. They then check that the customer’s newly written signature on the credit card matches the signature on the customer’s ID. If a customer refuses to sign a Visa card, the card is considered invalid and cannot be processed. Merchants will then be forced to ask the customer for another form of payment.

Discover

Discover keeps things very simple. The company urges its cardholders to sign the backs of their Discover cards as soon as they activate them.  This is because the signature makes the card valid and a cashier may decline the transaction if the card is not signed. 

American Express

American Express also urges retailers to compare a customer’s signature on the back of an American Express card with the transaction sales receipt. And if an American Express card is presented unsigned, the clerk is to request a photo ID of the customer with a signature. Following this, they must request the customer sign the back of the American Express card and the sales receipt while the clerk is holding on to the customer’s photo ID.

Writing “See ID” on a Credit Card

Writing “see ID” or “check ID” on a credit card might seem like a great way to protect from fraud. But it actually may invalidate the card. This is because only your valid signature that a merchant can match with a signature on a sales receipt is acceptable. In some cases, the merchant may ask you for another card to make your purchase. To save yourself from a slower-than-needed transaction at the cash register, sign your credit card as intended.

Tips for Protecting Against Credit Card Fraud

  • Only carry the credit cards you need. When you travel, keep a list of the credit cards that you have with you. Make note of their full account numbers and expiration dates, as well as contact numbers for the issuers. It will come in handy if something should happen to your wallet, phone or both when traveling.
  • Go paperless and start checking your credit card statements online to avoid having to keep and shred your paper statements. Just be sure to keep your online passwords in a safe place and to update them from time to time.
  • Check your credit card transactions each month to check for errors or suspicious activity. Quickly report any transaction you don’t recognize to your card issuer.

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Lucy Lazarony Lucy Lazarony has been writing about personal finance for more than a decade. Lucy’s a credit card expert. She is a freelance writer and award-winning journalist living in South Florida. Lucy earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. Her work is featured on Credit.com, CardRatings.com, MoneyRates.com and Art Hive Magazine.
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