Opting out, the right way

Getting a good deal on a loan can save money, but getting unsolicited mail and calls about loans can be frustrating. Many of those solicitations can be stopped by opting out, with credit bureaus.

Last week I wrote about record-low mortgage rates and the opportunities they provide, and local certified public accountant Karen Fine decided that, yes, it would be a good time to refinance a loan.

Not long after she applied for a refinancing with a local mortgage broker, her phone started ringing. It was a company she didn’t know — but they knew her credit score, and knew she was mortgage loan shopping — and they called repeatedly to pitch loan deals.

Fine was suspicious, as I would have been, and she eventually spoke with a woman who had called. It turned out, the calls were coming from a legitimate bank, which had acquired her credit score and other information from one of the credit bureaus.

Yes, the same credit bureaus that compile your financial dossier and calculate the scores that determine your loan-worthiness also sell that data. That information becomes the basis for those letters that tell people have been preapproved for credit cards, and other financial products.

Phone calls are less common.

I think most people know by now that unsolicited phone calls involving financial products or requests for personal information are mostly scams. So, Fine was right to be suspicious. And when she was told that she could make such calls stop by calling another phone number and providing her Social Security number and other personal information, Fine was rightly suspicious of that, too.

It turns out, though, that the information she was given was correct.

If you want to stop receiving prescreened offers for financial products and insurance, calling the toll-free number 888-567-8688 (888-5-OPT-OUT) is one way to do it. And, yes, you’ll have to provide your Social Security number. You can also opt out online, at optoutprescreen.com. The phone number and website are operated by the major consumer reporting companies.

That process will allow you to opt out of receiving prescreened offers for 5 years. If you want to permanently opt out, go to the same website to begin the process, but you’ll also have to send in a signed form.

Opting out of such offers will not change your credit score or limit your ability to get loans. It could reduce your volume of junk mail, because you should stop getting unsolicited offers based on your credit bureau information.

Opting out won’t eliminate junk mail, or scams. What it’s supposed to do is eliminate prescreened offers that you did not request.

Of course, it seems like there’s a scam associated with just about everything these days, from phony fundraisers to IRS and student loan scams, so it should be no surprise that there’s also a scam associated with opting out of prescreened offers.

One version of that scam, according to credit bureau Experian, involves unsolicited phone calls (usually robo-calls) in which people are asked for their Social Security numbers and other personal information in order to opt out of marketing lists.

“We recommend that you hang up if you receive a call of this nature,” Experian said in a web posting.

So if you want to opt out of prescreened loan offers, you can by making the phone call or going online. If someone calls you offering a way to opt out of such offers, it’s a scam.

If your goal is to not only reduce solicitations, but to prevent access to your credit reports, you could go take an additional step and put a security freeze on your account. That blocks access, which can help prevent identity theft, but a freeze also means you can’t get a loan or anything else that requires a credit check, while the freeze is in place.

A freeze will stay in place until you lift it. Under South Carolina law, state residents cannot be charged a fee to place or lift a freeze on their accounts. To freeze your credit reports, you’ll need to contact all three major credit bureaus. Here’s how to contact them:

Equifax: https://www.freeze.equifax.com or call 800-685-1111.

Experian: www.experian.com/freeze or call 888-397-3742.

TransUnion: www.transunion.com or call 800-680-7289.

If you freeze your credit reports, remember that it could take several days to unfreeze them if you apply for credit or otherwise need to allow access to your reports.