“I wanted to work full time,” she said. “Even after surgery increased my pain, I wasn’t considered injured enough to qualify for disability.”
She cleaned offices, but couldn’t snag the hours or keep up the pace that earned enough to conquer her family’s financial problems. Creditors’ lawyers threatened legal action.
An innocuous sounding TV commercial offered what looked like a viable way out. They could consolidate her debts into small, easily manageable payments; bills, claims, and liens would vanish; life would return to normal. She signed a contract, and commenced sending the debt-consolidation company monetary installments.
Yet, her creditors’ attorneys continued to seek redress through lawsuits. Lara, and spouse Refugio, a metal parts grinder for Pacific Tool and Gauge, countered by seeking legal advice as well. Their counselor advised them to stop sending the payments, she said.
After months of futile attempts to retrieve their mishandled money, Lara learned of the Oregon Department of Justice, and State Attorney General’s office. (While Juana takes pride in her citizenship, and exercises her voting privileges, she still surmounts a slight language barrier with legal paperwork.) Through Oregon Attorney General John Kroger’s Office, she registered a complaint against the company called “American Debt Settlement Solutions.”
On March 12, the Attorney General himself visited Lara at her modest White City home to deliver an update on her claim status. Kroger personally thanked her for calling his attention to what he deemed fraudulent business tactics. “That company has no license to operate in Oregon,” Kroger said. “They’ve stolen thousands of dollars from this woman. We’ve gotten in touch with them; now they’ll be sending it all back. They won’t be trying that in Oregon anymore.”
He added that debt consolidation fraud, rates among the top ten complaints Oregon consumers filed with his office in 2010. Kroger’s website just released this updated list. “They get away with it as long as nobody calls it to our attention,” he said. Asked if the same owners might resurface using a new business name, Kroger expressed doubts. “Once we get involved, they tend to stay away. They may try it in another state, but they’ll avoid Oregon.”
Juana Lara reacted with delight over Kroger’s visit, and his vindication against the crooked company that had violated her trust. At his behest, she vowed to help Kroger inform other Spanish Speaking consumers to guard against making mistakes similar to hers. “Don’t trust everything you see on commercials concerning your debt payments,” she said in Spanish. “They may not be honest, and might just take your money.”
By F. C. Blake
Of the Independent