Florida family lived large while running credit repair scam, says settlement

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Clean Credit Report Services Inc. has agreed to stop making false claims and charging up-front fees under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

The settlement is part of a Operation Clean Sweep, an ongoing crackdown on scams that target financially strapped consumers. In this case, Clean Credit Report Services was taking hundreds of dollars in fees to purportedly remove negative information from consumers' credit reports -- even if the information was accurate and timely.

The settlement agreement requires Clean Credit Report Services, Ricardo A. Miranda, Ruthy Villabona, and their son, Daniel R. Miranda, to surrender two cars, three houses, and six commercial properties in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida, and in Bogota, Colombia.

According to the FTC, the company typically debited $400 from consumers' bank accounts before receiving a signed contract, and proceed to do little, if anything, to fulfill its promises.

The settlement order forbids Clean Credit and its owners from making misrepresentations about any goods 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 Oct. 22, 2008, when the court froze the defendants' assets, including their bank accounts. The order also bars the defendants from disclosing, benefiting from, or failing to properly dispose of customer information.

The settlement also imposes a $14.4 million fine that will be suspended once the defendants surrender their assets, including frozen funds totaling about $165,000, and proceeds received from selling 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 $14.4 million judgment will be due immediately if the defendants are found to have lied about their financial condition.

The FTC recently announced a set of new rules designed to curb the "deceptive and abusive practices" of a debt-relief industry that's mushroomed during the worst U.S. economic crisis since the Great Depression.
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