WASHINGTON (AP) _ In complaints filed in federal courts across the country, the Federal Trade Commission contends 20 companies violated the law by making deceptive claims about improving customers' credit ratings by removing derogatory information from credit files.

The FTC also alleged in the complaints Thursday that the companies falsely claimed they could repair a consumer's bad credit rating for a fee.

The agency asked the courts for an injunction to bar allegedly false advertising claims made by the companies, partially through unsolicited e-mail.

In 12 cases, the FTC said in a statement, the courts issued temporary restraining orders and froze all or part of the companies' assets.

``Ultimately, in all cases, the FTC is seeking permanent injunctions prohibiting the alleged deceptive practices'' as well as financial compensation to customers, the agency said.

Eleven similar cases are being pressed in state courts, the FTC said.

``Credit repair organizations that promise to clean up consumers' credit reports by removing accurate, up-to-date credit information are breaking federal law,'' said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. ``This fraud is particularly appalling because it preys on consumers who already find themselves in financial difficulty as a result of layoffs, divorce, or heavy medical expenses.''

While there are legitimate credit counseling services, she said, ``The FTC has never seen a legitimate credit `repair' company.''

No one can erase negative credit information if it is accurate and current, the agency said. Any inaccurate information can be corrected at little or no cost to consumers, it said.

The 12 companies subjected to temporary restraining orders and frozen assets are, in alphabetical order by state:

_Dixie W. Cooley doing business as DWC, Scottsdale, Ariz.

_Pathfinder Research Co. of Los Alamitos, Calif.

_Midwest Management Associates Inc., of Chicago.

_Second Federal Credit Inc., Credit Repair Network, New England Financial, and Phillips Hall Inc., doing business as Allied Credit Services, all four of Massachusetts.

_National Credit Management Group of Fort Lee, N.J.

_Fighting Back Inc. of New York City.

_Compass Northeast Credit Service of Columbia, S.C.

_Quaite & Associates _ The Credit Solver, Dallas.

_Credit Services, Dallas and Conroe, Texas.

The other eight companies targeted by the federal government are:

_Keith Gill and his law offices, Woodland Hills, Calif.

_Law offices of Jack Schrold of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

_Credit Corporation of America of New Orleans, La.

_Equity Funding & Associates, Inc. of Bloomfield, Mich.

_Nationwide Credit Information Services of Freehold, N.J.

_Credit Report Counselors of Cincinnati.

_AAA Credit Services of Columbia, S.C.

_Cornerstone Wealth Corporation of Dallas.