Better Business Bureau Hispanic Initiativ

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The Better Business Bureau of Central/Northern Arizona is focusing on an initiative to inform the Latino community of the services and information it has to offer. The goal is to educate consumers about what they need to know before doing business with a company and how to protect themselves against fraud. Better Business Bureau President Elaine Hugunin discusses the initiative.

>>José Cárdenas:
Good evening. I'm José Cárdenas. Tonight on "Horizonte," from the voting issue surrounding Proposition 200 to the threat of identity theft, tonight Attorney General Terry Goddard is here to talk about these issues and more. Also, a new initiative aimed at helping Latinos be better consumers. That's all next on "Horizonte." When Proposition 200 was passed by voters last year, one of the provision of the law required people to show identification when going to vote. Now there are issues on what will be accepted as voter identification. Joining us tonight to talk about Proposition 200 and other issues is Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard. Attorney General Goddard, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."

>> Terry Goddard:
Good evening.

>>José Cárdenas: Before we talk specifically about the voting issues and the dust-up between the Secretary of State and the Attorney General and the governor's office or what appears to be one, just generally, what's the status of the litigation? There are two lawsuits. What's happening with them?

>> Terry Goddard:
Well, I guess -- one of the ways I'm relatively confident that we made the right decision, at least in the first part of implementing Proposition 200 was that both sides sued us for the Attorney General opinion I came out with in November. That had to do with public benefits. One case, which said that the whole proposition was unconstitutional, is now under advisement at the 9th circuit federal court.

>>José Cárdenas:
That's a lawsuit filed by the Mexican-American legal defense and education fund?

>> Terry Goddard:
Yes, it was. And it was argued two weeks ago. So we'll hear, we're guessing, in about a month, maybe a little more than that what their decision will be, but that's the question, is whether to put the whole program into a restraining order and basically stop its implementation.

>> José Cárdenas:
Any sense of the hearing? Were there any questions that were asked that gave you any indication of how the court --

>> Terry Goddard:
Well, yes, the hearing -- it was a three-judge panel and they basically focused in on whether or not harm had been rendered. The case was brought before Proposition 200 actually started being implemented, and so ripeness was the main question that the court raised as to whether or not they had any examples of people that had been disadvantaged or harmed by the proposition. That seemed to be the major focus that the court had. The other case is a state court case, who basically said we didn't go far enough, that the interpretation should have included education, should have included far more than the welfare benefits, which we believe was the proper interpretation of Proposition 200. That case was dismissed out of hand on summary judgment at the District Court in the State of Arizona. Excuse me, in the Superior Court in the State of Arizona. Now it's on appeal to the circuit -- to our Court of Appeals. I get them all mixed up before we're done, but that appeal has been argued and again we're waiting for the Court of Appeals to make a decision.

>>José Cárdenas:
Attorney General, you mentioned a question from the 9th circuit panel about what harm has been done. What has been the impact of prop 200 to date setting aside the voting question?

>> Terry Goddard:
It's a relatively short time since the implementation started at the State of Arizona in December, January of this year. So we have a little bit of early information, and I don't want to glorify it by saying we've got definitive information. We don't. But I've heard, for example, in the welfare area that there has been a fall-off in applications and that many people simply have not been able to come up with the identification requirements that Proposition 200 required, for example, to get electricity assistance. I understand there's been a one-third -- almost -- a 24%, not quite a third, fall-off in the applications.

>> José Cárdenas:
In the applications. Not talking about people who have actually applied and it's been discovered they don't have --

>> Terry Goddard:
Fewer people are applying and of the people who have applied a number have not been able to prove they're citizens, not had a certified copy of their birth certificate, passport or other indications that they're citizens of the United States, which the proposition says they must show in order to get those public benefits.

>> José Cárdenas:
And the proposition also requires reporting people of, who in fact aren't citizens attempting to get benefits. Have there been any such reports?

>> Terry Goddard:
Yes, it does, and my understanding is there has been two referrals at the Department of Economic Security of individuals who appeared not to have the requisite status, appeared to be here without documentation. I don't know the final outcome of those cases but I believe there were two referrals.

>>José Cárdenas:
Can you give us a thumbnail sketch, an overview, of the implementation questions as the voters none connection with the voting portion -

>> Terry Goddard:
The voting gets very complicated. The first part is registration. That's now a two-thirds of Proposition 200 is in place right now and operating. The part that has to do with registration requiring that you show that you're in this country -- well, showing that you're a citizen before you can register to vote, and in that area there has been some significant consequences. It appears that about a third of the people who try to register do not have adequate identification, and again, they're looking for certified copy of birth certificate, a passport, naturalization papers, other evidence that you are a citizen, or, and this is an exception in the area of registration, an Arizona driver's license. That is not proof of citizenship, but because it does require that you show that you're in this country legally in order to get a driver's license, it has been held that that is also enough to get somebody registered. Now, the second half of your question has to do with what identification you have to show at the polls. Prop 200 is rather general in this area. It simply says that you have to show identification with a photograph that shows your name and your address. Or two pieces of non-photographic identification, such as a utility bill or some other item which shows your name and address.

>> José Cárdenas:
And addresses, though, that match with what they have at the polls.

>> Terry Goddard:
Well, address becomes the critical issue. The original rules of the Secretary of State put out in February said that you had to have on your photo I.D. the same address that's at the polls. Well, many people don't have their residence address on their driver's license or other photo I.D. Especially Native Americans do not because they tend to have P.O. boxes on their photo identification, on the tribal identification cards. So my office, I objected to that particular provision and said, well, you need to have more options so we don't inadvertently in enforcing Proposition 200 simply disenfranchise a lot of people who are perfectly legal voters, have been registered and voting for years but just don't have the -- the exact correspondence on photo I.D. That's something we're going to have to work out. I have been calling upon the Secretary of State and the governor to get together, because three officials have to approve the new rules for what Proposition 200 is putting in place.

>> José Cárdenas:
Does your office have a proposal on what would be an acceptable response --

>> Terry Goddard:
We have been waiting for the Secretary of State to make a proposal and so far there hasn't been one forthcoming but we're still hopeful, and she has just recently assured me that they will have a new set of proposals as to what identification will be required. This needs to be done right away. I can't say urgently enough that we need to get the rule, get it established and get it out there to the election boards around Arizona so that they can let the voters know what they're going to be required to have and we can have some elections now in 2005 which will use the new rules.

>> José Cárdenas:
I realize you are somewhat constrained by the attorney-client privilege because the Secretary of State is your client but what can you tell us about the issues she's raised in editorials and in a letter earlier this month about this subject?

>> Terry Goddard:
You're correct, I can't say much -- I can't say anything about advice we have given to the Secretary of State because she's a client and has not waived the privilege, but what I can say is the nature of the problem. We have a challenge, and the challenge is, first, to decide what identification will be appropriate, and a number of things have been put on the table. Driver's license is easy. Obviously if you have a driver's license with your home address on it, that should work. But what if it's a business address or a P.O. box? Are we going to be able to expand the definition of address to include those? I think probably we should. In addition, what other types of identification? We've talked about auto title, auto insurance, a bill that's been sent to your house within the last 90 days that has your name and address. Now, that presents a problem for married women because many of them do not have utility accounts in their name, and the title to the car is in their husband's name. So we've got to have identification definitions which doesn't disenfranchise most married women in Arizona. Those are the kind of problems we're struggling with right now.

>>José Cárdenas:
Now, I understand you've gotten some comments at presentations you've made in other convenient views from people who express surprise about the impact -- venues from people who express surprise about the impact the provisions have had on them.

>> Terry Goddard:
That's right. As we've talked about these complicated or possibly complicated rules we're working on right now, say, Well, I thought that just applied to Hispanics. We thought Proposition 200 was essentially to keep people who are not documented from voting and certainly there was a lot of discussion of that kind during the election. But my job is to enforce the law so that it's constitutional, and if Proposition 200 is going to be constitutional in its enactment, it has to apply to every vote inner Arizona. So when the identification rules go into place, I just need to emphasize, it will be for everybody, no matter how many times you voted, no matter how well the election board knows you, the identification requirements are going to be across the board for every single voter.

>>José Cárdenas:
Mr. Attorney General, let's move on to a few other issues quickly. Predatory lending. What's the scope of the problem? What's your office doing about it?

>> Terry Goddard:
It's hard to get a total handle on predatory lending, but it's big. It's a significant problem in our state and across the country, and basically with a we're referring to is a variety of practices, overreaching customers who are perhaps over trusting or not knowledgeable about mortgage finance and a sharp salesman sells them a very expensive mortgage when they may have been qualified for a less expensive mortgage. That's one form of this problem. Another form of the problem is a loan company that essentially sells you -- or sells you on a mortgage you can't afford. They know from the beginning that you don't have sufficient income to pay the monthly payments, and they sell you the mortgage simply to get your property so that at the end of the day, and especially in the dramatic up market we've had in Arizona, that's turned out to be some business opportunities for the lender to go into -- to put -- force the property into foreclosure when it gets behind in payments and take over equity. We have one company in Tucson that's reported to me to have one-third foreclosure rates. You know if they are foreclosing on one-third of the properties something is wrong in the equation.

>>José Cárdenas:
What kind of tools does the Attorney General's office have to deal with this?

>> Terry Goddard:
Not as many as I like. Half the states around country have antipredatory lending statutes. Arizona does not.

>>José Cárdenas:
What can you do about the situation you just described?

>> Terry Goddard:
We can go after fraudulent activity, if somebody says you have a 6% rate and actually signed you up for an 8% rate and you didn't realize that until later in the day or later in the month. This happens very often for Spanish-speaking customers that they will be sold a mortgage in Spanish but all the documents will be in English.

>>José Cárdenas:
And it will say something different?

>> Terry Goddard:
They may say something very different. That's something where we can prosecute for criminal fraud. But in terms of just best practices, in terms of not taking advantage of unsuspecting customers or ones who don't know the original industry very well, we don't have legislative or statutory protections in Arizona.

>>José Cárdenas:
One last question on the subject. Do Hispanics seem to be more of a target for predatory lenders than other groups?

>> Terry Goddard:
Absolutely.

>>José Cárdenas:
Is it a language issue.

>> Terry Goddard:
The two groups that stand out are Spanish speaking, usually mono lingual Spanish speaking, and seniors. These are the groups that seem to be targeted far higher than any other, and I think in the case of monolingual Spanish speakers it's because in Mexico there isn't the long tradition of mortgage financing, and that's something where many people come to this country and don't really understand what it is they're signing up for. So we emphasize, if you have a question, you've got to get the answer from somebody you trust, not from the person who is trying to sell you the loan. You certainly need to get a good translation, and we're pushing for legislation that basically says, if the loan is sold in Spanish, the language has to be written in the contract -- and the contract in Spanish.

>>José Cárdenas:
Identity theft, earlier this week the county attorney was on "Horizon" talking about what his office is doing in that area. What's the Attorney General's office done?

>> Terry Goddard:
We have been doing a lot for a long time. Basically we're prosecuting violators, the scheme keep changing from fishing and farming, one of the most recent forms of e-mail identity theft, to most recently card systems, Tucson operation that had -- a hacker got into their system and it appears lot of people's identities may have been compromised.

>>José Cárdenas:
This is one that made big national news.

>> Terry Goddard:
Made national news, had to do with MasterCard. We have written them a letter, my office has written a letter, saying we want you to tell us what Arizona customers may have been implicated in this situation so they will know and be able to protect themselves. But identity theft is the fastest growing felony crime in America today and it's something that we -- we have to make people aware of the problem. We have to give you -- give individuals all the tools that we possibly can to protect themselves against identity theft.

>>José Cárdenas:
When we talk about tools, it's not just what you can use to protect your yourself but apparently technology is playing a big role in the identity theft itself.

>> Terry Goddard:
Technology is playing a huge role but most identity theft in Arizona is still the old-fashioned kind, people taking bills out of your trash or out of your mail, outgoing mail, and washing the checks or taking the numbers off of the account and then using it for themselves. It's your Social Security number. The key to your financial security. And if people don't -- guard their Social Security number very carefully, they may well become victims of identity theft. Only about 10, 15% of the identities theft today in Arizona is the high-tech variety. It's people hacking into your computer or somehow fishing use an e-mail to get account numbers. I recommend people go to our web site AZAG.gov and we have lots of add advice on how to avoid identity theft, we have complaints to file if you are the victim and need to restore your credit. Most of that information is on the AG web site in Spanish and English.

>>José Cárdenas:
One area I would like to focus is the whole controversy about students from Mexico going to school across the border in Ajo. What can you tell us about that?

>> Terry Goddard:
It's a very tricky problem. Like so many of the border issues, it doesn't exactly -- it's not exactly what at first blush it seemed. There was a story -- series of stories about children apparently crossing the border at Lukeville and being bussed approximately an hour north to Ajo to go to grade school and high school. I'm informed this has been going on for many years. And so there was an initial explosion that this investigation said that, well, this is another example of undocumented people getting benefits in the United States. Well, these children, and there apparently are some children that have been now the Superintendent of Public Instruction has videotaped them coming across the border, we don't have proof yet that's where they live but it appears likely that's where they live, are, with only one or two exceptions, are American U.S. citizens.

>>José Cárdenas:
These are kids who live across the border --

>> Terry Goddard:
They live in Mexico, and they go to school in the United States. Now, Arizona law -- they are U.S. citizens or legal residents, or legally in the country. They don't have any examples of these kids -- they pass in front of the border patrol every day. So if there was any problem with their status, it would be found out very quickly.

>>José Cárdenas:
So the issue is residency.

>> Terry Goddard:
The issue is residency. It doesn't matter whether they live in Mexico or New Mexico or Colorado or Utah, if they don't live in Arizona, they're not entitled to have the state's share of their education paid about $35 hundred dollars a year, which goes to the school district for each student. The way Yuma and Cochise County and Santa Cruz counties have handled this is the school superintendent of the county simply assesses the parents some amount of money, usually about $3,000 for the cost of educating that child. In this case, in Ajo, we have some hardships. We have border patrol agents. We have sheriff's officers. --

>> José Cárdenas:
Talking about U.S. border patrol --

>> Terry Goddard:
U.S. border patrol living in Mexico because Lukeville doesn't have a lot of housing.

>> José Cárdenas:
And it's their kids coming across.

>> Terry Goddard:
Their kids coming across.

>> José Cárdenas:
Perhaps we can have you back on.

>> Terry Goddard:
I would be delighted.

>> José Cárdenas:
The better business bureau wants the Hispanic community to know about information available to help them make educated decisions as a consumer. Mike Sauceda tells us how the BBB is going to do that.

>> Reporter Mike Sauceda:
The Better business bureau is one of the sources of information dispute resolution and referral for consumers in Arizona. Now they are reaching out to provide the same information to the community through an Hispanic initiative. Here are some of the points of the initiative. Complaint forms and press releases available in Spanish. A web site launched called En- Espanol. And a full-page color add in the Hispanic Yellow Pages explaining what the BBB is and what it can do for businesses and consumers. Next steps include increasing Hispanic business owned membership and partnering with Hispanic business owners to learn how to reach their consumers.

>> José Cárdenas:
Here with us to talk more about the initiative is Better Business Bureau president Elaine Hugunin. Elaine, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." Before we talk about the specific initiative, tell us generally about the better business bureau, what it is, and how it does what does it.

>> Elaine Hugunin:
The better business bureau exists to promote and foster ethical business practices in the marketplace. We help consumers and businesses resolve disputes and provide a lot of information for businesses and consumers to be better at making decisions and resolving complaints.

>>José Cárdenas:
Why this initiative and why now? What's happening?

>> Elaine Hugunin:
We've had some strategic planning. We've had requests from community leaders and based on our experience with the Spanish speaking population.

>> José Cárdenas:
What kind of experiences are you talking about?

>> Elaine Hugunin:
Most of our walk-in traffic at the bureau is the Spanish-speaking population. And we believe that is related to some of the language barriers. I think a lot of times the Spanish population, they don't know where to go when they have a problem or don't know where to go to ask questions or who should they be doing business with? I think there's a huge void in the marketplace.

>> José Cárdenas:
So you saw this and then you came up with this initiative. Can you tell bus some of the specifics? We saw some of them on the taped video piece. What else is going on?

>> Elaine Hugunin:
As you said on the piece before, we are transposing a lot of our forms, like complaint form, we have a Spanish page on the web site. We will be translating all of our business or reliability reports in Spanish. And a really cool initiative we have done is we have a mandatory Spanish conversational course required for all of our employees. So how can they, you know, communicate in basic form with some of our Spanish-speaking customers.

>> José Cárdenas:
These would people who answer the phone, people who are the first point of contact when somebody walks in off the street.

>> Elaine Hugunin:
Actually all our employees, including me, are talking the mandatory Spanish class.

>> José Cárdenas:
That would be for the initial contact and if it requires greater skills they pass them onto somebody else.

>> Elaine Hugunin:
Yes, we have bilingual staff that help people understand maybe a contract or how to write down a complaint.

>> José Cárdenas:
As I understand it predatory lending which we just talked about with the Attorney General is also one of the things you all have been focused on.

>> Elaine Hugunin:
We see a lot of that, not only in the Spanish speaking market but obviously the English speaking market. As the Attorney General stated, a lot of people sign a contract in English and just make assumptions based on the high pressure of the sales and then when it comes to the actual implementation of the contract, they didn't understand it. So I think there's a lot of mis-- advantage being taken of the Spanish speaking people. Because they don't understand what they're signing.

>> José Cárdenas:
Do you have any instances where they're given documents in Spanish that are different than what the English language documents have set forth?

>> Elaine Hugunin:
I believe we probably have some situations, depending on the industry. Without being too specific, but some industries, I think, tend to market certain things more contractually, for example, I think people really have to be careful when signing like a lease for an auto or as Terry Goddard indicated, mortgages, or even water filtration systems. We see some problems with those types of contracts. In English and in Spanish.

>> José Cárdenas:
Do Hispanics tend -- is there a higher incidents of -- incidence of them being victims of these kind of scams for lack of a better word than there would be in the non-Hispanic population?

>> Elaine Hugunin:
I believe they probably do have a higher chance of falling prey to that. We've been looking at some of the advertising in the Spanish media, and we're seeing a variance in the Spanish marketing versus the English marketing.

>>José Cárdenas:
You mean the same company would run different ads in Spanish media?

>> Elaine Hugunin:
Yes.

>>José Cárdenas:
Give us an exam you will, not necessarily by name but the kind of differences.

>> Elaine Hugunin:
Certain claims, maybe like in auto repair, it might be a little more exaggerated. One of the things we always say, and I would like to say it on air here, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So we see a lot more, I think, bait and switch with the Spanish speaking market than we even do with the English. There's a lot of that going on in the English speaking market as well.

>> José Cárdenas:
How do you measure that? You get somebody coming in saying, this is what I read in the paper, and when I went there -- it.

>> Elaine Hugunin:
Didn't happen. We get a lot of complaints on that. Then it becomes difficult to prove.

>>José Cárdenas:
But you are seeing more of in that connection with Spanish language advertising than English -

>> Elaine Hugunin:
Were seeing a lot more creativity in that marketplace.

>>José Cárdenas:
As well as the bait and switch problem.

>> Elaine Hugunin:
Yes.

>> José Cárdenas:
I understand there's some particular problems with respect to auto leases. Can you discuss that for us? Or auto purchases.

>> Elaine Hugunin:
I think that's not only with the Spanish speaking but also the English speaking. Again, I think Attorney General Goddard touched on this, people really need to understand what they're signing and don't sign under high pressure. So really understand the documents, and if a salesperson tells you something but it's not reflected in the contract, then it's not real. So --

>>José Cárdenas:
If they can't read English, how are they going to determine that?

>> Elaine Hugunin:
That's a problem. So don't sign it would be my advice. I mean, take the documents with you, but typically -- you've bought a car, haven't you? The sales is close the deal right there. I think Terry Goddard and I were talking before we had the segment here, I think a lot of the Spanish speaking people don't know where to turn when they have a problem, and I think we haven't seen all of the issues out there because they have a reluctance, I think, sometimes to come forward with a problem that they've signed a contract that's bad. So our part -- part of our goal at the better business bureau is to educate consumers to really check out a business and really check out something before they make that transaction.

>>José Cárdenas:
We've got less an minute left. Just two questions quickly: what's been the reaction from the community? And I understand there's a next phase. What can you tell us about that?

>> Elaine Hugunin:
The community has been overall very positive. We've had a lot of positive comments about the mandatory Spanish class. I'm thinking maybe a lot of companies might modify and do something like that for their own company. Our next step is to continue, to promote the resources that we have available on WWW.arizonaBBB.ORG through appearing on TV shows like this and meeting with a lot of community leaders.

>>José Cárdenas:
We're glad to have you on the show Elaine Hugunin. Good luck on this initiative and phase 2. We have a link to the better business bureau and the Attorney General on our web site, www.azpbs.org. Just click on "Horizonte" on the screen and follow the instructions. That's our show for tonight. Thank you for watching "Horizonte." I'm José Cárdenas. Have a good evening.

Elaine Hugunin: President, Better Business Bureau;

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