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Indians in bordertowns victims of mobile home scams

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - An attorney specializing in bordertown consumer cases warns American Indians about dealing with mobile home companies, who can declare bankruptcy and hide their assets to avoid paying reparations to victims.

"Don't ever make an up-front payment. They steal them and declare bankruptcy," said Rob Treinen, attorney with the Feferman and Warren law firm in Albuquerque.

"If you do give them a down payment, make sure you have a contract," Treinen said.

One Farmington mobile home dealer aired radio advertisements in the Dine? language. When Dine? speakers arrived at the office, they were greeted with coffee by Dine? sales staff who described the deal.

But when it came time to sign the contract, the contract was in English and the buyers did not know what they were signing.

In one case, the mobile home company promised to take the family's existing trailer and pay it off as a down payment. The company did haul away the mobile home. The company resold it and never paid off the family's previous loan.

Meanwhile, the bank that financed the loan on the original home sued the family. Then, the mobile home dealer lied and said the family had sold the trailer to a relative.

The matter went to court arbitration, but the mobile home dealer declared bankruptcy.

Payday loan scams in bordertowns are another financing scam with high interest rates.

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"When you only pay interest, your debt never goes away."

The elderly are particularly vulnerable, especially those who only speak their Native language and are trusting of the false friendliness of manipulative businessmen.

Pawnbrokers, too, often exceed the legal limit for interest on pawned jewelry, rugs, pottery and personal items. Many pawnbrokers violate the law when they fail to notify customers that their dead pawn (unpaid for or unclaimed pawn) is being put up for sale.

Another bordertown scam is the taxman. The company prepares IRS taxes for the customer and charges a high rate. Then the company gives the customer a credit voucher or card requiring the customer to spend all their tax return at the business.

"They get you to spend it all there," Treinen said.

Still another scam involves title loans, where a person gives the title to their car or truck to a business in exchange for a loan. The interest might be as high as 500 percent on a $500 loan.

"If you ever get behind, they take your car. Now they are charging 2,000 percent interest, which they think they can get away with.

"It's just theft, it's just stealing."

With title loan scams, a person just pays the interest and the loan is rolled over, adding layers of interest payments.

"You get on this treadmill of debt you can never get off," Treinen said.