In the 17th edition of our Best of the Best Blogger Series, we’re speaking with Denise Richardson, author of Give Me Back My Credit. In her book, Denise talks about the life altering financial event that changed her life completely and the Herculean effort she put forth to recover from it.
The problem started for Denise when she first began making extra principal payments on her mortgage and assumed that her payments were being handled and properly recorded by her mortgage servicing company. As it turned out, the payments were being applied inaccurately and, in fact, some payments weren’t being applied to her balance at all.
Her long held belief that if you worked hard and paid your mortgage on time that your credit rating would take care of itself was turned on its ear. The ensuing battle with her mortgage service company and the credit bureaus destroyed her credit and engulfed her life for the next 10 years, turning her once ordinary life upside down.
We sat down with Denise recently to talk about identity theft, loan servicing fraud and her longstanding work that came out of her experience as a consumer advocate.
Q: Doing my research on you, it became very clear to me that youre a fighter. Tell me a little bit about your background and upbringing.
Things were going well, but then I encountered a problem that hit close to home. My own mortgage had some very costly lending errors in it, and those errors would ultimately engulf my life. This became the spark that launched Give Me Back My Credit! and made me so determined to help others avoid the problems Id faced.
Ive been a fighter for pretty much all of my life, and looking back I finally understand why. The inability to protect my identity, both personal and financial, from being altered or manipulated by others has had a profound effect on how I view the world and put me on the path to becoming who I am today.
Q: Youve dedicated the last 15+ years of your life advocating for consumers, battling big banks and mortgage servicers and fighting back against predatory lending and identity theft. Have things gotten any better with mortgage servicers and credit reporting agencies since you started your quest?
Mortgage servicers continue to ignore borrowers, regulatory agencies continue to let it slide and homeowners continue to fight for relief from the tyranny of illegal foreclosures and unnecessary credit damage. It seems like no matter what borrowers need assistance with, whether its a loan mod, correcting an accounting error, or stopping a wrongful foreclosure theyre met with nothing but hassles and frustration.
Borrowers cant even get a monthly statement in most cases to help track their payments and prevent accounting errors. I mean, seriously how hard would that be? How are people supposed to deter fraud and catch errors from seeping into their loans if they cant verify that their payments are being credited accurately, on time or at all?
Q: Youre one of the only non-attorney members of the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA). Tell us a little bit about your work with NACA.
I truly am honored to be one of the few non-attorneys accepted into NACA and work hard to raise awareness of their efforts and initiatives. I try to teach my readers about their efforts in hopes of furthering the NACAs goals of empowering the consumer and to strengthen NACAs ability to connect with the people they advocate for.
Todays students and consumers are tomorrows judges, legislators, lenders and voters. Its vitally important that they understand their rights and more importantly know whats right. They need to know the importance of consumer protection and unite with advocates who can give them a voice. This is the only way that things will ever change.
Q: Youve become very well known in consumer advocacy circles and you also do a vast amount of work for non-profits. How do you find the time to do all of that and run Give Me Back My Credit (GMBMC) at the same time?
Ill be honest, I often struggle with that; sometimes the balance sways too much to one side or the other, especially when faced with tight deadlines or unexpected site issues. It doesnt help that sometimes a lot of news stories break at the same time.
In the end, though, there are only 24 hours in a day and some of those hours have to go toward enjoying life itself. During the times when it seems like theres too much to do and not enough time to do it in, like everybody else I just do what Ive got to do and knuckle down to get the job done.
Q: Whats been the most rewarding part of running (GMBMC)? Whats been the most disappointing?
I cant even express what its like to know that Im making that much of a difference in someones life. Its mind blowing. Even though theyre thanking me, I want to tell them that theyre my inspiration I wouldnt and couldnt do what I do without the people Im trying to help. Its those types of rewards that keep me going, continuing to offer support and a platform for the consumer to be heard.
As for the most disappointing part, thats probably how much time I have to spend protecting my site from malicious attacks or tech-related problems. The time and expense involved with running a good content-rich website that doesnt get filled with spam and broken links … its more than most people think. Not to mention having to tackle server problems when they pop up, staying up to date with good SEO procedures in the wake of search engine algorithm changes, making sure that everything on the site is indexed properly and dealing with other random problems such as having to spend a few days recently reporting and removing my content from spam sites that had scraped content from my RSS feed.
And so much of it is stuff that you really have no control over. You never know when a servers going to crash, or a spammers going to hit or when youre going to have to deal with a security issue that you didnt know existed before. Its all time and money that Id rather be putting toward communicating with readers and consumers, and its really frustrating sometimes.
Q: Whats been the most disturbing trend that youve seen in identity theft?
There have been more and more data breaches in the last year or two than ever before, but companies are going full speed ahead at converting all of their info to digital form without even giving thought as to how to protect it or the people at risk once its compromised. People can get online with smartphones, in handheld games and using a ton of new technology.
Digital info (and our privacy) is at risk because nobody thinks about what will happen if say patient files are kept on a Blackberry that gets lost or a business network is unsecured and somebody with a net book can hop right on. Then it happens, and everybodys astounded and sorry but by then its a little too little a little too late.
Were not keeping up with the tech-savvy criminals, but were giving them more and more ways to get at our info. Knowledge is our greatest safeguard against fraud, but too often lately it seems like were not even trying.
Q: Lastly, whats your opinion of mobile payment technology companies like Square and PayPal?
I know that PayPals pretty good about clearing things up once a problem is found and tends to be fairly proactive about trying to prevent fraud, but it still happens. The key is keeping track of what you spend using these companies and treat them like you would your credit cards or bank accounts. Dont fall into the trap of thinking that its just PayPal when someone could break into your account and use it to access your linked savings or checking account. Use the services that these companies offer wisely, and keep an eye on your account to prevent fraud or catch intrusions early.
My sincere thanks goes out to Denise Richardson and her amazing story of perseverance and service to others. A true inspiration and model of citizenry that we need so desperately in today’s world.
Thank you so much Denise for spending your time with us.