It sounds like a great deal: In return for an up-front payment of a few hundred dollars, you can lower your credit card interest rate and save thousands over time. And it’s an offer that has intrigued some Credit.com readers.
“Do I have to go thru Card Member Services and pay them a fee to get my interest rate reduced on my credit cards? They want to charge $695,” a reader with the username “twenty45” wrote in a comment on our blog. “Is that a good business decision?”
That’s an excellent way to frame the question, actually. We all need to think of our finances and our credit as if they are our own small businesses. And in this case the answer is simple: No. This is a terrible business decision.
Why? Because this is a scam. Real credit card issuers and networks never offer to lower customers’ long-term interest rate in exchange for an upfront fee, says Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s personal finance expert.
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Here’s how the scam typically works. According to the Better Business Bureau, consumers like “twenty45” receive a phone call with a recorded message that makes statements like, “There are no problems currently with your account, however it is urgent that you contact us concerning your eligibility for lowering your interest rates to as little as 6 point 9 per cent.”
Potential victims are told they must call a separate number to talk to a live “operator.” This person offers to negotiate with the consumer’s credit card issuer for a lower interest rate in return for an upfront fee, usually between $700 and $1,000.
Sometimes the scammers actually do call the issuers and ask for the rate to be lowered. If they do, this is the beginning and end of the supposed “negotiation.”
Here’s the trick: Consumers can do the exact same thing, for free. If you make a good case, such as the years of loyalty you’ve shown your issuer or the fact that you’re receiving offers from many other issuers for cards with far lower rates, you might even win a lower rate yourself.
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“Consumers are fully capable of talking to credit card companies on their own, for free, and getting similar results,” says Steve Cox, a Better Business Bureau spokesman. “Consumers simply don’t need to pay any company a thousand dollars to negotiate lower rates on their behalf.”
Here are some tips from the BBB on how to handle this situation:
- Don’t return the robocall. It’s a scam. Simple.
- If a live person contacts you and makes similar offer, “never give personal information, including Social Security, bank or credit card numbers, over the phone to an unknown telemarketer,” the BBB says. Instead research the company first by looking up its Reliability Report at www.bbb.org.
- Don’t sign anything, and don’t give anyone any money, until you’ve received and read a contract that clearly explains all the terms and conditions.
- To avoid such calls, sign up for the federal Do Not Call list at www.donotcall.gov. If you’re already on the list but getting calls from scammers anyway, report them to the Federal Trade Commission, here.
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Image: Trace Meek, via Flickr