Give Me Back My Credit – Best of The Best Blogger Series

Give Me Back My Credit - Best of The Best Blogger Series

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 you’re a fighter. Tell me a little bit about your background and upbringing.

Give Me Back My Credit

A: I’m originally from New England, and that’s where I lived and worked for much of my adult life. I was a real estate paralegal, starting as a law firm employee and eventually carving out my own path. I started offering my services to various attorneys who needed a little extra help with real estate openings and closings. It was the first service of its type, and was actually a very successful venture into entrepreneurship.

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 I’d faced.

I’ve 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: You’ve 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?

A: The sad truth is that things have moved in the wrong direction. When I started, predatory lenders and identity thieves were a big problem. They’re even more of a problem now than they were then.

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 it’s a loan mod, correcting an accounting error, or stopping a wrongful foreclosure they’re met with nothing but hassles and frustration.

Borrowers can’t 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 can’t verify that their payments are being credited accurately, on time or at all?

Q: You’re 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.

National Association of Consumer Advocacy

A: I joined NACA in 2005 after I learned about their nonprofit and consumer advocacy efforts. NACA is a champion for consumer interests before Congress, in the courts, and in front of regulatory agencies. They represent those customers who face fraudulent, abusive and predatory lending and financial practices.

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 NACA’s goals of empowering the consumer and to strengthen NACA’s ability to connect with the people they advocate for.

Today’s students and consumers are tomorrow’s judges, legislators, lenders and voters. It’s vitally important that they understand their rights and more importantly know what’s 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: You’ve 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?

A: That’s a tough one. Time is actually something that I struggle with a lot. When people are driven by passion, they’re able to do what they love and are eager to start work each and every day. The flip side of this is that it’s easy to cross that line into obsessive behavior if they aren’t careful. In order to be effective at what I do, there has to be some degree of balance and discipline.

I’ll 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 doesn’t 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 there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it in, like everybody else I just do what I’ve got to do and knuckle down to get the job done.

Q: What’s been the most rewarding part of running (GMBMC)? What’s been the most disappointing?

A: The most rewarding part is definitely interacting with all of the consumers that I meet. It moves me each and every time that I hear that I’ve been able to help my readers in some way. Sometimes I answer the phone and hear tears of joy or an expression of genuine disbelief on the other end of the line because there’s somebody out there who actually understands them, or hears them or is fighting on their side.

I can’t even express what it’s like to know that I’m making that much of a difference in someone’s life. It’s mind blowing. Even though they’re thanking me, I want to tell them that they’re my inspiration… I wouldn’t and couldn’t do what I do without the people I’m trying to help. It’s 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, that’s 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 doesn’t get filled with spam and broken links … it’s 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 server’s going to crash, or a spammer’s going to hit or when you’re going to have to deal with a security issue that you didn’t know existed before. It’s all time and money that I’d rather be putting toward communicating with readers and consumers, and it’s really frustrating sometimes.

Q: What’s been the most disturbing trend that you’ve seen in identity theft?

Today’s ID thieves continue to refine their tech savvy skills and find more and more sophisticated ways to access and then use our stolen data. That’s a trend we can expect will continue. But, it’s the trend developing in business that has the potential to be a major problem. We digitize more and more info, getting everything off of paper and putting it onto computers.

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 it’s 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 everybody’s astounded –and sorry –but by then it’s a little too little –a little too late.

We’re not keeping up with the tech-savvy criminals, but we’re 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 we’re not even trying.

Q: Lastly, what’s your opinion of mobile payment technology companies like Square and PayPal?

A: Mobile payment companies like PayPal and Square aren’t necessarily a bad thing. A lot of people I know use PayPal all the time, and services like that can make it easy for people to send money to each other or shop online. The problem is that some people think that these companies are impenetrable and that nothing bad can ever happen when using them. That’s just not true.

I know that PayPal’s 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. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s “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.

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