Being an election year, immigration is a hot topic. Somewhat less discussed is the exploitation of non-English speaking immigrants as consumers. Mexican immigrants are now generally recognized as a significant market sector. Sometimes the efforts made to lure them into sales are not matched by the care to see that they are treated fairly. The disadvantage suffered by some immigrants in commerce is not just lack of familiarity with the language but more importantly — and quite independently — many are vulnerable to dishonest practices due to a lack of familiarity with customs and conventional practices.
For example Harris Ford in Seattle is a car dealership that employed a Spanish speaking translator who could not read English, so the non-English speaking Latino had no way of checking the language of a contract before signing. He or she was entirely dependent on the representations of the sales person.
Lorenzo Hernandez went to Harris Ford to see about getting a truck. He had a two year old car but was drawn to the dealership by advertising for a truck that cost only a few thousand dollars more than his car had cost. He was told that his car could be used as a down payment. Lorenzo who was working two jobs and whose wife was pregnant with their second child insisted that he had to have an automatic transmission so that his wife could drive up the steep downtown hills for her doctor’s appointments. The salesman said that there were no trucks on sale with automatic transmissions but that he could buy one with a manual gear shift then if after a month or so if it did not work out, he could bring it back and exchange it for one with an automatic transmission. This seemed fair to Lorenzo, and he bought the truck. It turned out that Harris Ford gave him only a fraction of the blue book value fro his tradein, resulting in a $5,000 deficiency on the trade in. This was added to the price and with all the add ins his truck cost more than $10,000 above the price he thought he was getting.
The truck did not work out and Lorenzo took it back to Harris Ford. Sure enough he got a truck with an automatic transmission but what he was not told was that the dealership had just sold him a new truck at a non-sale price and used his first truck as a trade in with a two thousand dollar discount on value from the advertised “drastic” sales price. He ended up with a debt more than twice the advertised sales price of the truck, and crippling monthly payments. After about a year he called the dealership and said that he could not — even with three jobs — continue to make the payments. The truck was taken from him and a few months later he was sued for roughly the full sales price of the truck that he originally inquired about. He found himself with about $15,000 of debt and without transportation.