A credit repair operation has agreed to stop making false claims and stop charging up-front fees under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The settlement is part of an ongoing crackdown on scams that target financially strapped consumers, in this case taking hundreds of dollars in fees to purportedly remove negative information from consumers’ credit reports even if the information is accurate and timely. The FTC filed the action in “Operation Clean Sweep” in October 2008.
The settlement agreement requires that Clean Credit Report Services, Inc., Ricardo A. Miranda, Ruthy Villabona, and their son, Daniel R. Miranda give up two cars, three houses, and six commercial properties in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida, and in Bogota, Colombia. According to the FTC, they told consumers they would help remove all the negative remarks from their credit reports, as well as current debt. Clean Credit often debited $400 from consumers’ bank accounts before receiving a signed contract, and then did little, if anything, to fulfill its promises. See http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2008/10/opcleansweep.shtm.
The settlement order bars Clean Credit and its owners from making misrepresentations about any good or service, such as the ability to improve a consumer’s creditworthiness or remove negative information from a consumer’s credit report. The order also prohibits Clean Credit from charging money up-front for credit repair services, and from collecting payments from consumers who purchased its services before October 22, 2008, when the court froze the defendants’ assets, including their bank accounts. The order further bars the defendants from disclosing, benefitting from, or failing to properly dispose of customer information.
In addition, the settlement order imposes a $14.4 million judgment that will be suspended, contingent upon the defendants surrendering their assets, including frozen funds totaling about $165,000 and any proceeds received from selling their six commercial and three residential properties under foreclosure in Florida; commercial property in Bogota, Colombia; a 1992 Mercedes S300; and a 1997 Chevrolet Venture. The full judgment will become due immediately if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.
The Commission vote to file the stipulated final order was 5-0. The order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
NOTE: Stipulated court orders are for settlement purposes only and do not necessarily constitute an admission by the defendants of a law violation. Stipulated orders have the full force of law when signed by the judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.