WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on bogus ''credit repair clinics'' that bilk consumers by promising a quick fix for their credit troubles.

FTC Chairman Janet Steiger said such companies charge anywhere from $50 to $1,000, promising to remove accurate negative information from their records to or get some other form of credit for them.

The problem is the companies can do neither, and consumers desperate for money lose more dollars in the process, Steiger said Wednesday.

''Credit repair clinics prey upon consumers who are desperate to improve their credit history, charging them hundreds, and sometimes even thousands of dollars,'' she said. ''Unfortunately, their false claims raise false hopes, and only further deplete their victims' often limited resources.''

Steiger said the agency was widening its efforts against credit repair fraud to include state attorneys general, credit bureau representatives and public interest and trade groups. Their first meeting was Wednesday.

The effort also will include new consumer education programs.

Steiger also announced a settlement with a company that advertised on the America Online computer service, marking the agency's first action involving the information superhighway.

Private companies known as credit bureaus collect information reported by banks, mortgage companies, department stores and other creditors to monitor an individual's credit history.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows them to keep the information on file for seven years, as long as it's accurate. It cannot be erased before then. Bankruptcies can be recorded for 10 years.

The law allows consumers to correct inaccuracies or information more than seven years old at next to no cost, but many consumers are unaware of the law and its provisions, Steiger said.

Time is really the only antidote for a bad credit history.

''We've not seen a legitimate credit repair service,'' said David Medine of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. ''What we've seen are overstatements and misstatements of what the credit repair services can accomplish.''

Some companies also instruct consumers to lie on credit card applications to create a new credit identity, a violation of federal law.

The FTC also announced a settlement with Chase Consulting Co., and its owner, Brian Corzine of Sacramento, Calif., who sold consumers a $99 program to establish a new, clean credit history.

Corzine allegedly advised consumers to break the law by getting a new ''taxpayer identification number'' from the Internal Revenue Service and using it like a Social Security number on credit card applications.

Under the proposed settlement, still subject to court approval, Corzine would pay $1,917 in refunds to people who bought his kit.


Copies of a free FTC pamphlet on disputing credit report errors and spotting credit repair scams are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., 20580, telephone (202) 326-2222.