A Southwest Ranches paralegal with no financial credentials ran companies that defrauded people of nearly $2.4 million with false promises of debt reduction, according to the Florida attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission.
Chastity Valdes, 35, originally from Coral Gables, settled her case last month with the two offices. The amount she agreed to pay the FTC: $4,500.
That’s the stated value of the assets held by Valdes and her companies, Consumer Assistance LLC, Consumer Assistance Project and Palermo Global. Also, Valdes is barred from the debt relief and credit repair business, which authorities charge she didn’t really engage in anyway.
The original complaint filed last April alleged Valdes’ companies promised debt reduction and credit repair to those with high student loan debt — and then did nothing of the sort.
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Meanwhile, the companies sucked money from those in debt with illegal up-front fees while falsifying glowing online reviews.
If the FTC or the state finds Valdes hid assets from the FTC or the attorney general’s office, the paralegal who now works with a hair replacement service will be on the hook for the full $2.382 million.
Valdes formed Consumer Assistance LLC in December 2011. Through websites and press releases, the company advertised “as much as 90%” of student loan reduction.
After advertising services “at no cost,” Consumer Assistance charged an illegal upfront fee of $250 and as much as $303 in monthly fees for 36 months. For this, they claimed they would examine the student loans for legal technical failings that would loosen the shackles on the debtors.
But, the state and FTC said, “In most instances … Defendants have not audited their customers’ loans or successfully challenged their validity. At most, Defendants have sent ineffective form letters to the borrowers’ loan servicer or have applied for temporary forbearances or deferments that did not reduce consumers’ loan principal.”
Later, the complaint stated, “Defendants have not provided the promised credit repair services to most, if not all, of their customers.”
Valdes’ companies faked five-star ratings on social media, according to the complaint.
“Consumer Assistance’s Facebook page, renamed from Consumer Assistant Project in early 2015, has included star-rating reviews, purportedly from consumers. This page, however, includes reviews from Defendants’ employees or agents. For example, the Facebook page included a five-star review from Defendant Chastity Valdes as well as other five-star reviews from employees and known business associates of Defendants.”