Credit score

Here’s what you need to know about voting, your credit score, spam and background checks

One of the things I love most about being your watchdog is that the readers I call “the citizens of my watchdog nation” serve as an army of reporters. Many of you send me story ideas and topical tips to research and share, tips that I would never have known otherwise.

Take retired Air Force Captain John Biggerstaff of Commerce.

Biggerstaff says that, until now, the only way he knew how to improve his credit rating was to meet his financial obligations and find and correct any errors in his credit report.

“Now obviously there is another way,” he says. “All you have to do is phone Experian and magically you might get a higher score. I don’t understand how this is possible.

It refers to a free product called Experian Boost. This is supposed to boost your Experian credit score by allowing this credit bureau to check your bank account to ensure that you are making timely payments on your utility bill, cell phone, and even video streaming services like HBO, Hulu, Netflix, and Disney+.

The product is aimed at consumers with low credit scores as well as young consumers, according to the company, who need to establish lines of credit and demonstrate their ability to pay their bills regularly and on time.

Credit scores are important because they affect interest rates on car loans, insurance premiums, and even the background checks that some companies do before hiring employees.

How big is the boost? Not that much. Experian spokeswoman Kylie Neighbor said 70% of enrollees see an average increase of 10 points or more. What is the size of 10 extra points? Well, the average Experian score would be 710. That means the increase is only 1.4%.

Disadvantages? They look in your checking and savings accounts as well as your credit cards to verify. You give up privacy for a few miserable points. And that doesn’t apply to the scores used by the other major credit bureaus, TransUnion and Equifax.

Spam opt-out

Proud Watchdog Nation member Sandra Bakkethun of Krum wants everyone to know how easy it is to stop those pre-approved credit, insurance, and loan offers coming through your inbox.

“There is no charge for this,” she says. “I can honestly say it works.”

The website is optoutprescreen.com.

Rod Rodolico from Dallas saw my recent article which suggested ways to do background research on home building and remodeling companies. He came up with a great idea.

“One thing I’ve never seen you mention when verifying a company is that anyone can verify the age of an Internet domain name,” he says.

Is the company website new? Or is he 10 years old? It is an indicator of a company’s longevity.

“It’s a tool to use in deciding whether a company is as established as it claims to be,” he says.

The website is whois.com.

Internet Archive

Let me add another free web tool you can use for background searches. Do you know how to go back in time and consult the web pages of the past? There is a great tool called “Wayback Machine” on archive.org.

I easily found a snapshot of a DallasNews.com January 1997 web page.

The DallasNews.com homepage from June 1997, courtesy of the “Wayback Machine” which shows screenshots of web pages dating back to the mid-1990s.(Screenshot)

You can find a company’s web page history going back, in some cases, 25 years.

Automotive voter registration is now allowed

In light of the state Legislature passing more restrictive voting rules this week, it’s a good time to bring up a related case in which the state lost a hard-fought lawsuit — and the voters won.

Last month marked the settlement of a lawsuit challenging the state of Texas’ refusal to register voters online when applying for a driver’s license. This also applies to drivers updating or renewing their license.

In most states, obtaining a driver’s license and registering to vote go hand in hand. But not here.

In Texas, the Department of Public Safety website asked if you wanted to register to vote. It’s estimated that going back in time, at least 6 million Texans checked the box, but later discovered there was no follow-up from the state. They were ultimately unregistered.

The lawsuit was first brought by the Texas Civil Rights Project, then brought by Democratic Party campaign committees. Since a preliminary agreement was reached in the lawsuit, around 1 million people have registered to vote online for the first time.

I first reported that Texas didn’t allow online registration in 2012, then updated the situation a few years later. I quoted a US Civil Rights Commission report in which President Martin R. Castro mocked our condition:

“Texas, Texas, Texas, what are we going to do with you?” As always, Texas is at the heart of election restrictions.

He said that five years ago.

TT for Texas

Finally, here is a computer trick that saves you time.

When you enter your address on an online form and it asks for your state name, you don’t always have to scroll to the T’s and find Texas.

Most of the time, instead of scrolling down, you can type TT and the drop-down menu will automatically highlight Texas.

TT is the shortcut to Texas. Other states have their own shortcuts to avoid typing the full name of a state.

My computer guy Scott Green tells me that the first T gets you to the Ts and the second T gets you around Tennessee (code TE) and straight into Texas.

It saves a few seconds. Add that over the course of life and I bet you get a whole hour back. Did you know ?

Type "TT" and that usually takes you straight to Texas.
Type “TT” and it usually takes you straight to Texas.(Screenshot)

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The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column is the 2019 winner of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ top column writing award. The contest judge called his winning works “models of suspenseful storytelling and public service.”

Read his winning columns:

* Assist the widow of Officer JD Tippit, the Dallas police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, to be buried next to her late husband

* Help a waitress who was injured by an unscrupulous used car dealer