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Tools can help Spanish speakers avoid fraud.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Mortgage documents and real estate disclosure statements are hard enough to understand for people whose first language is English. For those whose first language may be Spanish or Chinese or Russian, buying a home in the United States can be especially difficult.

Scam artists know this and prey upon foreign-born home buyers. One of the more recent high-profile cases, in Yamhill County, cost Latino families more than $1 million and resulted in criminal charges against eight real estate and mortgage agents.

But there are people all over the state who take advantage of home buyers who speak limited English or no English, said Fernando Valez, consumer information specialist in the Oregon Division of Finance, Department of Consumer and Business Services.

"It's a problem wherever consumers or home buyers are interested in buying a home," Valez said.

Hispanics are vulnerable because they prefer to work with professionals who speak Spanish, and that can expose them to the people who seek to exploit that, he said. Scam artists even use Spanish advertising to lure their victims, he said.

Some of the people charged in the Yamhill County case used connections through a local church to find the clients they deceived, Valez said.

"They used that as a channel to convince people that they were looking out for their best interest," he said. "They gained their trust, and people were falling into this."

Fraudulent practices include encouraging a buyer who lacks documentation of residency to use a false Social Security number in applying for a home loan. Buyers who do that not only break the law, they could lose their homes, Valez said.

Some victims of the Yamhill County scam told authorities the loan originator said it was all right to provide a false number, he said.

Another problem is lenders who inflate the incomes of applicants to help them qualify for a loan, Valez said.

One of the best tools consumers can use to protect themselves against predatory or fraudulent lending and real estate practices is to take a class in the basics of buying a home. But the classes often span most of a day, making it difficult for some buyers to attend, Valez said.

"Consumers, especially the Hispanic population, sometimes don't seem to be taking advantage of counseling or education classes offered by nonprofits," he said. "They work too many hours or spend too much time taking care of their kids."

Nonprofit groups in many communities offer such courses. In Lane County, the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation offers a monthly class called "The ABCs of Home Buying." The class is in English, but a Spanish-language interpreter can be provided with a week's notice, according to NEDCO's Web site.

Sandy Halonen, executive director of NEDCO, said that even if a buyer is working with Spanish-speaking real estate and mortgage agents, he should use a neutral, third-party translator when reviewing and signing paperwork.

"You don't want someone who is a friend or family member of the person buying the house," Halonen said. `And they should not be a person who has the potential of making money (from the sale).'

With two bilingual staff members, NEDCO provides English-Spanish translation services. Between 18 percent and 25 percent of the families who come to NEDCO speak Spanish, Halonen said.

"I'm not saying everyone should come over here and have us be the interpreter for everything," she said.

"It's about letting them know they are in charge. That's really what the key is. That goes for anyone who is buying a home, whether they speak Spanish or English. The more they know, the better it is."

Many immigrants, for example, are under the impression they can't buy a home without showing credit card or other consumer debt, or a bank loan, Halonen said.

"It's perfectly acceptable to not have any traditional credit and get a loan with the best rate," she said. A record of timely utility bill and rent payment will suffice.

- Scott Maben

WHERE TO GET HELP

The state Department of Consumer and Business Services has published a brochure, "Applying for a loan to purchase or refinance a home in Oregon," in both English and Spanish. It's available on the agency's Web site, www.dfcs.oregon.gov.

The department also investigates complaints of fraudulent lending practices. To contact consumer information specialist Fernando Valez, call (503) 947-7854.

Real estate agents and brokers are licensed and regulated by the state Real Estate Agency, at (503) 378-4170.
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Title Annotation:Real Estate & Housing; Scam artists can prey upon home buyers with a limited understanding of English
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 15, 2006
Words:743
Previous Article:4 bds, 2 ba, speaks Spanish.
Next Article:LETTERS IN THE EDITOR'S MAILBAG.
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