Book Review

Consumers can avoid financial disasters

People Get Screwed All the Time

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Lisa Von Ahn
Reuters / July 29, 2007

In "People Get Screwed All the Time," Las Vegas lawyer and Fox News legal analyst Robert Massi backs up the title of his new book with horror story after horror story.

Margaret and William put all their money into a retirement home in Florida, only to lose it when their homeowners association foreclosed -- for $150 in unpaid dues.

Darnell had his Cadillac stolen, but his bad luck had just begun. Months later, he ended up paying thousands of dollars in storage charges because the car had been abandoned and towed to an impound lot.

Carol and Ed accepted an offer from close friends to buy their store and agreed to take the purchase price in installments. Not only didn't they collect most of the money, but they also found themselves liable for rent and utility charges incurred by the new owners.

"What happened to these people could happen to any one of us," Massi writes. But to at least some extent, each situation could have been avoided.

Too often, these real-life victims failed to protect themselves by putting or getting things in writing, from cash receipts to communications with creditors. Some also let important matters slide, wrongly assuming that someone would get in touch with them if a problem arose.

And most didn't know their rights and obligations under the law.

Each cautionary tale ends with a section on how Massi would have counseled the victims.

For example, he says anyone who lives in a development governed by a homeowners association cannot afford to ignore dues and fines.

Massi said he would have advised Margaret and William to contact their state attorney general's office to find out if there is an ombudsman to whom they can file a complaint against their association.

In the car-theft case, the author says Darnell should have kept in constant contact with the police so that he would have known the car was found. He then should have called his insurer, which might have paid the storage fees.

As for Carol and Ed, Massi says they could have avoided many of their problems by making sure their landlord released them from the terms of their lease and that their utility accounts were assigned to the new owners.

Since most new businesses fail, even existing ones purchased by new owners, Massi said, he would tell any seller to get either the full purchase price or the biggest possible down payment when the deal closes.

Throughout the book, he urges readers to become more accountable and make sure they fully understand the consequences of any agreements they enter into. If necessary, they should consult a lawyer.

A major problem, he writes, is a widespread tendency to avoid consulting a lawyer because of distrust of the legal system or concern about the costs.

"For many, the services of a legal professional have become a last resort," he said. "Often, by the time I meet with these clients, their legal problems have become far more complicated than they ever needed to be."

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