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Capital Credit Protection, a Florida company that has posted numerous "Repair Bad Credit" advertising signs along St. Louis streets, is headed by a man who appears to have had ties to a similar credit-repair operation that was shut down two years ago by a federal judge.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) is advising St. Louis area consumers to exercise caution when dealing with Capital Credit Protection (also known as Capital Credit Solutions) of Jacksonville, Fla.

Willie J. McKenzie, president of Capital Credit Protection, appears to have had business ties to Kevin Hargrave through a firm called Lexington Credit Services. Hargrave, of Florida, was found guilty of civil contempt in Jacksonville in November 2012. The Federal Trade Commission accused Hargrave, his wife, Latrese, and several of their companies of violating a court order to stop selling bogus credit-repair services.

BBB of Northeast Florida and the Southeast Atlantic describes Capital Credit Protection as a credit-repair firm. It has an "F" rating with BBB, the lowest possible.

A woman from Orlando, Fla., told BBB she contacted Capital Credit Protection in February after seeing several similar street signs in that city. She said the company promised her repeatedly that it would raise her credit score enough to allow her to purchase a car and a house. More than eight months and $500 later, she said, her credit score has not changed.

"They've done absolutely nothing," she said.

The local signs, sometimes called "bandit signs," began popping up last month along a stretch of Gravois Avenue on St. Louis' South Side. "Repair Bad Credit $250," the signs read.

The red and white signs include a toll-free phone number that is the same number listed on the website and Facebook pages of Capital Credit Protection and Capital Credit Solutions. Identical signs also have been seen recently in the Peoria, Ill., area.

BBB and the FTC note that no one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report. Both say that anything a credit-repair company can do legally, a consumer can do for himself or herself, at little or no cost.

The rectangular red and white "Repair Bad Credit" signs of Capital Credit Protection are very similar in design to the red and white "Erase Bad Credit" street signs used extensively by BFS Empowerment Financial Services and other Florida businesses that were linked to Kevin and Latrese Hargrave.

One group of "Erase Bad Credit" signs erected in the Little Rock, Ark., area in 2011 included the website erasecredittoday.com. An investigator with the Arkansas attorney general's office noted in a court filing that the website was registered by Lexington Credit in Jacksonville, Fla. The investigator said that records for Lexington Credit showed Kevin Hargrave as the company contact and McKenzie as the company president.

The contempt order against the Hargraves, BFS Empowerment Financial Services, Help My Credit Now Credit Services and Kevtrese Enterprises, found that the defendants violated a 2010 permanent injunction barring them from using misleading advertising to promote or advertise credit-repair services. The order included payment of more than $6 million in penalties and restitution. McKenzie, Lexington Credit, Capital Credit Protection and Capital Credit Solutions were not named as defendants.

McKenzie registered Capital Credit Solutions with the Florida Department of State in August 2012. The company's most recent annual report, which was filed five months ago, lists McKenzie as president of the company.

One website for the company, capitalcreditsolutions.comcastbiz.net, says, "Welcome to your road to credit redemption." It also states: "The fastest and most efficient way to build your credit score is let us get to work for you!"

On another website, capitalcreditprotection.com, the company says it has "helped thousands of clients achieve an approvable credit score. The bottom line is - we get results."

The company requires that a $250 fee be paid within three days of signing a contract.

On its website, the company says that the fee covers access to the consumer's credit report "and you (sic) case analysis which will be givin (sic) to you before we process your payment." It says there is an additional monthly fee of $50.

Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said consumers should be wary of paying Capital Credit Solutions or any company for work that they can do themselves.

"Businesses like Capital Credit Solutions imply that they have some magic formula to get rid of bad credit and improve your credit score," Corey said. "That simply is not the case."

A BBB employee posing as a potential customer called the number on the St. Louis area signs and asked for help improving his credit. A company representative said, "We can definitely help with that. You'll see a significant improvement (in the consumer's credit) within the first 45 days and we can definitely get rid of all the negative and derogatory requests or items from your credit report, and we can definitely help . . . by moving up on your credit score." He also promised to add 100 to 200 points to the caller's credit score.

An investigator called the same number several days later, identifying himself as a BBB employee. At that time, a man identifying himself only as Ron, a manager, said the company would never promise to get rid of any negative information on a consumer's credit report. "We don't say those kinds of things," he said. "You can't guarantee anything in credit report work."

The manager said the company operates in every state but Georgia and offers both credit repair assistance and credit counseling. He said the company has no connection to Hargrave or any of his companies, but did not elaborate. He said McKenzie was not available.

BBB offers the following advice to consumers who want to improve their credit scores:

• Review your credit report annually and report any errors. Federal law allows you to obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com.

• If you find any mistakes on your credit report, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies to report the errors, and start the process to correct them.

• Pay your bills on time.

• Keep your credit card balance low.

• Limit your credit cards.

• Research a business and its owners carefully before paying any upfront fees. Check a company's BBB Business Review at bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.

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