Can a CPN Number Really Fix Your Credit?
After feeling as though she’d exhausted all of her options to repair her poor credit history, Swatisha Keith bought a credit protection number (CPN) off of Craigslist [*]. The seller claimed it would give her a “new start” and was an easy — and legal — way to rebuild her credit.
But just a few months later, the FBI showed up at Swatisha’s office with an arrest warrant — and the threat of up to 30 years in federal prison.
CPNs exist in a legal gray area. While sellers claim they offer a valid way to rebuild your credit, as Swatisha found out, there is no such thing as a “legal CPN.”
Scammers target people struggling to repair their credit by promising to quickly erase bad credit and raise their scores. But if you’re looking to fix your credit, the last thing you need is to get scammed.
In this guide, we’ll explain the legal (and illegal) aspects of CPNs, how to identify other common credit repair scams, and what to do if you’ve already fallen victim to one.
What Is a CPN Number? Is It Legal?
A credit protection number — also known as a credit privacy number or CPN — is a nine-digit number that scammers claim you can use in place of your Social Security number (SSN) on credit applications or with financial institutions. CPNs are also sometimes referred to as credit profile numbers or consumer profile numbers.
But using anything other than your official SSN on an application — such as when applying for a credit card, taking out a personal loan, or filing your taxes — is fraud.
Anyone using a CPN in this way could be charged with multiple crimes, including identity theft and making false statements on a credit or loan application.
So, how do CPNs exist?
CPN sellers use a number of false, misleading, or questionable claims to make these numbers seem more legitimate than they actually are.
Most commonly, sellers quote the Privacy Act of 1974. As part of this Act, Americans could no longer be forced to give their SSNs to a third party, unless it was required by federal law (such as when applying for a passport). However, supplying your true SSN to lenders is required by law.
The bottom line: While it’s legal for CPNs to exist, it’s illegal to use them on any credit application or official document. If you’re using a CPN to apply for credit, you’re committing a crime.
How Do CPN and Credit Repair Scams Work?
CPNs are just one of the many types of credit repair scams that target Americans.
Fraudsters market products (like CPNs) or services that claim to help you quickly clean up your bad credit history or “start fresh” with a new number and credit report.
But in almost all cases, victims end up paying for useless services that they could easily complete on their own, give scammers access to information they can use for identity theft, or worse — risk being charged with fraud.
When it comes to CPN scams, victims are often unknowingly purchasing and using stolen Social Security numbers. Many illegal CPN scams sell SSNs that are stolen from:
- Children through child identity theft
- Senior citizens through elder abuse
- The recently deceased
- Incarcerated individuals who most likely won’t notice that their numbers were stolen
Even if your CPN isn’t a stolen SSN, there’s a good chance that it’s simply a fake nine-digit number meant to mirror a legitimate SSN — often from synthetic identity fraud.
CPN vs. EIN vs. ITIN vs. SSN: What’s the difference?
While CPNs exist in a legal gray area, scammers often compare them to other legal personal identifiers used by government officials and agencies. Here are a few other common identifiers that you should know about:
- Employer identification number (EIN). This nine-digit number is a unique identifier for businesses. This number lets business owners open business bank accounts, file taxes for their business, and get business licenses.
- Individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). These numbers are issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to people working in the United States who don’t have and aren’t eligible for an SSN — for example, a “nonresident alien” who is required to file a U.S. tax return.
- Social Security number (SSN). This nine-digit number is issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Most U.S. citizens are provided an SSN at birth. This unique identifier is used when applying for jobs, a driver’s license, paying taxes, or applying for loans.
These numbers are legal to use for their specific purposes. But their existence doesn’t make CPNs any more valid. In fact, if someone suggests you use your EIN or ITIN in place of your SSN, they’re asking you to commit fraud.
And this isn’t the only sign of a credit repair scam that you should be aware of.
The 8 Warning Signs of a Credit Repair Scam
- Companies promoting credit “piggybacking”
- Services that require you to pay upfront
- You’re told not to contact the credit reporting agencies
- The service states that you can’t use a CPN for certain activities
- The company offers services you can easily do yourself
- You’re guaranteed a higher credit score
- The service doesn’t explain your rights
- They ask you to use false information on applications
There are reputable debt counseling services available to help people repair their credit. But these legal and legitimate steps take time — bad credit can’t be changed overnight.
If you notice any of these red flags, you’re dealing with a credit repair scam.
1. Companies promoting credit “piggybacking”
Businesses lure consumers who have bad credit by promising to rapidly raise their credit scores 100 points or more by “piggybacking” on someone else’s (much higher) credit.
For a fee, these services claim to be able to add you as an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account. As a result, your credit score will rise thanks to a stronger payment history and lower credit utilization.
In one example, a Colorado-based credit repair business was charging customers anywhere from $325 to $4,000 to “piggyback” on strangers’ credit accounts. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) eventually charged them on multiple accounts, and they were forced to pay out over $6.5 million [*].
- Avoid businesses that want you to “piggyback” onto a stranger’s credit. This is almost always either a false claim or an illegal activity.
- Watch out for companies that promise a quick fix, or claim they can raise your credit score by a large amount. Repairing credit takes time. It’s not something that you can drastically and immediately improve.
2. Services that require you to pay upfront
The Credit Repair Organizations Act states that businesses involved in “credit repair” can not receive any payment until they’ve completed their services. If a company asks you to pay fees before receiving help, they’re committing a crime.
Credit repair companies that charge consumers before completing the services can face federal charges. For example, Utah-based PGX Holdings was the target of a suit from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over illegally requesting payment upfront for credit repair services [*].
- Legitimate credit repair businesses cannot charge you anything before they provide their services (and must show you that they achieved the desired results). Beware of high-pressure sales tactics, as well as companies that charge a monthly fee — as this is also illegal.
- If you’re contacted by telemarketers offering credit repair services, they legally cannot ask for payment until at least six months after the results have been achieved — and only after providing you with written documentation showing the results.
🎯 Related: Watch Out For These 7 Refund & Recovery Scams →
3. You’re told not to contact the credit reporting agencies yourself
Scam artists want you to believe that you can’t contact the main credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — on your own. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s how and when you can get in touch with the credit bureaus:
- For accurate information on your credit report: There’s no way to remove accurate information, such as missed or late payments. Anyone who claims they can remove this type of information is scamming you.
- For inaccurate information on your credit report: You can easily remove any mistakes or inaccurate information yourself by sending a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) compliant credit bureau dispute letter. This requires the bureaus to act within 30 days of receiving your dispute. The FTC even has a template credit dispute letter that you can use.
- Don’t engage with any company that tells you not to contact the credit reporting agencies yourself. If you have questions about your credit report, you can contact each reporting agency directly — and for free.
- Beware of statements that seem helpful (like the company saying it’s “their job” to contact agencies), but actually serve to convince you not to contact the agencies.
🎯 Related: How To Write a Credit Dispute Letter (Free Template) →
4. The service clearly states that you can’t use a CPN for certain activities
Credit repair schemes are notorious for sharing conflicting information about how you can use a CPN. They often clearly state that it’s your responsibility not to engage in fraud — but then suggest that you use your CPN to apply for auto loans or mortgages (which would be illegal).
- Companies that use constant disclaimers stating it’s “your responsibility not to engage in fraudulent activity” are seeking to protect themselves — not you. This is often a huge red flag that what they’re offering is either illegal or falls in a legal gray area.
- Beware of statements suggesting you can legally use a CPN to protect your identity or help build your credit. Don’t fall for claims that CPNs are legal because celebrities or politicians use them to “protect” their privacy. There’s no documented evidence that this is the case.
The bottom line: When in doubt, contact the company. If you’re unsure if it’s legal or not to use a CPN on an application, call the lender and ask.
5. The company offers services you can easily do yourself
If your credit report contains incorrect information, you’ll want to dispute it to get it cleared. However, credit repair scammers will try to convince you that it’s worth hiring them to do this for you, even though you can do it for free.
Credit bureaus and businesses supplying information are required to fix any inaccuracies promptly and without any fees.
- Be wary of pressure sales tactics imploring you to hire a credit repair company to scan your credit for false information or to dispute inaccuracies. You can get a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com and check for inaccurate information yourself.
- Don’t believe statements that suggest you need an agency to work on your behalf to change inaccuracies. Credit bureaus are required to fix these errors once you bring them to their attention.
6. You’re guaranteed a higher credit score (or removal of negative information)
One of the most obvious red flags of any scam is offering something that’s too good to be true. In the case of credit repair scams, this means promising a higher credit score.
Not only is it impossible to guarantee a higher credit score, but the methods that many credit repair services use are illegal to begin with.
In one example, a Texas company was charging customers $1,500 with the promise of raising their credit scores by 50–200 points. But in reality, the company was filing illegal identity theft reports with the FTC without their customers’ knowledge [*].
- Don’t believe any service that guarantees an increase in your credit score within a specific time frame or claims that their service will “100% erase” your bad credit.
- Beware of offers for a “new credit identity” and the removal of bankruptcies, bad loans, and more from your credit file. These are often just fronts for illegal CPN scams.
7. The service doesn’t explain your rights, or uses vague language
Legitimate debt counseling businesses will explain your rights, what you can do on your own for free to help your situation, and any free services available to you. However, scam artists avoid this; and instead, they may try to get you to purchase services that you can do or access yourself for free.
For example, scam companies typically won’t let you know that you can have a free copy of your credit report annually or that you can dispute errors on your own. Additionally, they won’t tell you that you have the right to cancel your contract with them within three business days for any reason at no charge.
They may also not honor refunds or guarantees that they advertise, as some individuals discovered when they were denied refunds despite not receiving results.
- The scammer uses pressure sales tactics, like giving you an upcoming due date to take advantage of a special deal. If you’re hiring a company to help you improve your credit, take time to ask questions — including how the service works, how they communicate, and your rights.
- They don’t mention your rights to amenities (such as a free credit report) when talking to you about services and steps to evaluate and repair your credit. Research all companies before signing up to ensure they are legitimate, and check their Better Business Bureau (BBB) score as well as any online reviews.
8. They ask you to use false information on applications
Credit repair scam artists sometimes suggest that you use false information when applying for loans or credit — such as a different address or phone number. They’ll claim these numbers are “attached” to your CPN and will help you build your new credit score.
But knowingly providing false information when applying for credit is a federal crime and can result in your being charged with multiple felonies.
- Don’t do business with anyone who suggests that you provide inaccurate information. Never provide false information on financial or legal documents. Doing so is illegal, and you can be charged with fraud — even if you’re following someone else’s advice.
- Avoid any business that suggests that you select a CPN address or a “better” or “luxury” address as a means to accessing more credit. Report any business that encourages you to complete documents with fake information by contacting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Never sign blank paperwork, as scammers can fill in inaccurate information — with your signature making it look like you agreed to the information on the form.
In the news: A Texas woman was charged with multiple felonies after filing multiple false police reports as part of an elaborate credit repair scam [*].
Did You Give Money or Info to a CPN Scammer? Do This
- Contact the person or company from which you bought the CPN, and request a refund. If needed, explain that you legally have the right to a full refund within three business days and that you don’t have to supply a reason.
- If you paid for the service by credit card, contact your credit card company. Explain that it was a scam, and ask if they can reverse the charges.
- Review your bank account to make sure the scammer didn’t make any unauthorized transfers from your accounts. If you notice a discrepancy or transaction that you didn’t make, contact your bank immediately and explain the situation.
- Freeze your credit to stop scammers from illegally taking out loans or opening new accounts in your name.
- Start regularly monitoring your credit reports, bank account statements, and credit card statements for signs of identity theft, especially if you provided the scammer with your SSN.
- If you suspect the scammer also stole your identity, you’ll want to file an identity theft report with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov.
- Secure your online accounts. Change your username and passwords on any accounts for which you provided the scammer with personally identifying information (PII).
- Report the scam to the FTC’s ReportFraud.ftc.gov website so they can compile information that can help them build cases against scammers.
- Report the credit repair scam to your local police department, as this can help them identify current scams in your area so they can issue warnings to your community.
How To Fix Your Credit the Right Way
There’s no quick fix for poor credit. But over time, you can improve your credit legally and for the long term. Here are a few tips to help repair your credit:
- Check your credit report to make sure there aren’t any errors. You can dispute mistakes for free that are bringing down your credit score. It’s a good idea to regularly monitor your credit score for any changes. With Aura, you get access to monthly credit scores as well as near real-time alerts about any changes to your credit file at all three bureaus.
- Try to practice good personal finance habits. For example, stick to a budget that ensures you’re spending less than you earn each month to make sure you’re not taking on debts that you can’t afford to pay back.
- Pay bills on time and in full whenever possible. Consider setting up automatic payments, as this helps you avoid late fees and can ensure that you have a strong history of on-time payments.
- Try to set aside extra money to help pay off debts, which can reduce your interest fees.
- If you’re in debt or have accounts that have gone to collections, focus on resolving those first, so they can stop negatively impacting your credit.
- Contact a legitimate credit counselor to help you work out a repayment plan. The Department of Justice maintains a list of approved credit counselors.
Can You Legally Change Your SSN To Fix Your Credit?
There are specific situations in which you can change your SSN — but bad credit is not one of them.
You can only request a new SSN if:
- Your SSN was assigned to more than one person and it’s causing issues.
- You’re in a situation involving abuse, harassment, or life endangerment.
- You have a religious or cultural objection to the numbers in your SSN.
- You’re the victim of identity theft and have exhausted all other options for resolving the problem.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Let Bad Credit Turn You Into a Criminal
Unlike what scammers might tell you, there are no quick fixes to repairing your credit beyond establishing good financial practices and actively monitoring your credit reports. Don’t believe their too-good-to-be-true deals. Instead, avoid credit repair scams and actively monitor your credit for signs of fraud and inaccurate information that could be holding you back.