(NBC News) — If your credit score is lower than you’d like and getting out of debt seems like an uphill battle, turning to a credit repair or debt relief company may seem like a good idea. Unfortunately, many of those companies are selling empty promises. 

Fraudsters are taking advantage of those desperate for a quick fix, promising to relieve debt or improve credit for an upfront fee. Experts say that’s a red flag. 

“Anyone trying to collect an advance fee is not a legit credit repair organization,” warns Katherine Hutt of the Better Business Bureau.

Companies are required by federal law to provide a written contract detailing the services it will provide and can’t collect a dime until those services are completed.

The Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker received more than 740 reports of debt relief and credit repair scams in 2018, costing consumers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Steps to repairing credit include contacting creditors and negotiating for a lower rate or lower monthly payments, consolidating debts into a single loan payment or getting help from a certified debt or credit counselor.

“A credit counselor will help you budget, help you come up with a payment plan and really teach you money management skills,” Hutt says.

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a scammer report it to the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.