By Russ and Tiña De Maris
After a Utah television station reported on “discrepancies” in an RV dealership customer’s loan papers, more alleged chicanery has popped up. Lisa Pueblo thought she’d bought a motorhome on a 20-year finance contract. Imagine her surprise when she found, instead, her contract was for just 10 years – and then a whopping $63,000 balloon payment needed to complete it. Could you be the victim of such perverted paperwork?
Loan papers different
Lisa Pueblo, a Farmington, Utah, resident, visited her local General RV dealership in 2015. Like a lot of folks, she just fell in love with a motorhome, but knew it had to be out of her price range. The obliging salesman gave her the “Hey! No problem!” response and proceeded to punch numbers that would have her paying a total of $156,000 for the $100,000 Thor motorcoach with just 240 easy payments. The ecstatic woman from Farmington drove home in a new motorhome.
But five years later, Pueblo discovered, much to her consternation, the bank looked at those loan papers differently. In their view, Lisa was paying, not 240 easy payments, but 119 easy payments, with the big $63,000 whacker as payment number 120. A look at the loan paper carbon copy she got from General RV was revealing. In what a TV station describes as a “smudged copy,” on one line the number of monthly payments shows a faint “240” but a much darker “119” appears over the top. When Pueblo checked out the loan papers at the financing credit union, there’s no smudge, no “240” but clearly a “119” plus the single balloon payment.
Coming out of the woodwork
When the Salt Lake City, Utah, FOX affiliate ran the story in April, they probably had no idea of what would come of the potentially perverted paperwork. Within a short while, three more “unhappy campers” contacted the station. All three had bought RVs from General RV, and all three came forward with similarly “smudged” paperwork. All of them found what they had understood were 20-year contracts had mysteriously been transformed into 10-year loans, each with a huge balloon payment at the end. One of the customers, Roger Barnes from Midvale, Utah, pointed out another similarity on his paperwork to that of Lisa Pueblo’s: His loan paperwork, handled by General RV, didn’t show any signature from the RV dealership.
All four parties found the same potentially perverted paperwork game. The balloon payments were different. Pueblo’s is $63,000; Barnes’ is bigger, $83,000 due in 2025. On either side, a customer from Tooele, Utah, faces a $73,000 payment; while a customer from Colorado takes the cake: He’ll be trying to come up with a blowout balloon payment of $105,000 come 2023.
Here’s the FOX news story in video format
What does the dealership have to say? When Pueblo came forward in April, General RV refused comment. When these other customers with “smudged” paperwork came out of the woodwork, General RV relented – a little. Alicia Gewinner, General’s marketing director, told the TV station, in part, “No one at General RV did anything wrong. We confirmed that General RV followed all legal requirements … all General RV forms, including details of the payment terms, are completed prior to acquiring a customer’s signature and do not undergo any alteration afterwards….” Gewinner patently denied what she called the “false claims” of the complaining customers.
Was the paperwork changed?
Interestingly, FOX ran the loan papers past a third-party attorney who had no relationship with either Lisa Pueblo or the dealership. His review of Pueblo’s paperwork revealed that all through the paperwork, the term of 240 monthly payments was clearly shown. “It looks to me like it was changed after the fact,” Stephen Whiting, the attorney, told FOX. “The question is, why was it changed after the fact?”
Why indeed? It’s not clear what inducement General RV would have to tell a customer their payment terms would run 240 months, then produce perverted paperwork giving them a shorter term and a balloon payment. One possible explanation could be that the salesman or finance managers recognized the sale of a rig would simply fall through unless the longer term – with smaller payments – were in place. But, of course, that’s only speculation.
There is a box required by law at the top of loan contracts
Smudged paperwork aside, at the top of the loan contracts there is a box – required under federal law. The numbers in the box disclose the number of payments, the amount of each, the finance charges, and the total amount that will be paid. In the questionable contracts, the numbers in the boxes add up to what would be a 240-month contract. A dead giveaway that something is wrong.
It appears that ticked-off customers aren’t the only ones interested in these goings-on. According to FOX, Utah’s DMV enforcement folks are quite interested, as well. Allan Shinney, director of the investigation division, told the news outlet he’d never seen anything like it before. “Everyone’s got paper jams,” Shinney told the TV outlet. “But not identical across the board at different transactions.” Apparently speaking of customers holding potentially perverted paperwork, “They very well could have been deceived. It’s sure looking that way.”
Industry and government “clam up”
We at RVtravel.com wanted to know more about this whole case, and how it might impact the RVing community. We reached out to Utah DMV Shinney’s office for further comments, and information as to the status of a potential investigation. Neither telephone nor email requests were ever answered. We also asked the trade group representing RV dealers, the RV Dealer’s Association (RVDA). Writing by email, RVDA’s president, Phil Ingrassia, noted, “RVDA wouldn’t comment on something like this unless it was an enforcement action that covered a wide number of dealerships.”
How can RVers protect themselves from perverted paperwork? We felt that, surely, the bankers would be the ones to know. So we reached out to the trade association that represents credit unions – a major source of RV loans. We sent a copy of the FOX story out to Lauren Williams. She’s the spokesperson for CUNA, the Credit Union National Association. We immediately got a response, in which she said, “This is unfortunate to hear, we would welcome the opportunity to provide insight.” Unfortunately, that was the end of the matter. We had initially asked for someone inside the industry to help us explain how buyers could protect themselves. The “we want to help you” comment was the last we heard from CUNA. They have not responded to further requests for help.
We find it disquieting that both the finance and selling industries connected with these problems are clammed up. And the fact that the regulatory agency that oversees RV dealerships in Utah has also gone mum is disturbing. We’ll continue to reach out for more help, and let you know if and when we hear something back.
Meanwhile, what can you, as either an “already” customer with an RV loan or a person who’s considering a potential “sign on the dotted line,” to do? Liberal applications of horse-sense. Personally, my wife and I have driven vehicle sales folks to distraction by deliberately taking the time to read each and every word on sales paperwork before we sign off. Don’t take the old “This is just customary paperwork; sign here” line of baloney from the salesman or the finance manager. READ the paperwork. If it smells fishy, DON’T sign it, demand a copy, and tell the dealer you’ll be back – after you talk to somebody else about what you’ve been asked to sign off on.
If you do allow a dealership to process a loan application for you, after you’ve read it, and thoroughly understand it, consider signing it. But don’t stop there. Go back to the institution that floats the loan and ask to see THEIR copy of the paperwork. Compare it directly to yours. If there’s a discrepancy, start politely shouting. Be sure to include your state’s regulatory oversight agency. It’s typically the DMV, but it may not be. Keep asking until you find the right arena. Of course, this all requires that you KEEP copies of all the paperwork generated in a sales transaction.
We’re hopeful that this matter is simply a “one dealer” issue
We’d like to think that the vast majority of RV dealers are free of allegedly perverted paperwork. But even if there’s only a FEW rotters, imagine being the victim. Don’t take the chance. Check your paperwork – preferably before you sign it. But even if you have a loan now, you may do well to go back and check it out.
Do you feel you’ve been on the dirty end of a deal with an RV dealer? Let us know. Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Paperwork image: fox13now.com