RALEIGH — A Robeson County man who tricked consumers into paying thousands of dollars for manufactured homes he wasn’t authorized to sell should refund their money, Attorney General Roy Cooper contends in a lawsuit filed today by his Consumer Protection Division.
“Using the dream of homeownership to trick consumers out of their hard-earned money is just plain wrong,” Cooper said. “My office is here to protect consumers from these misleading and fraudulent business tactics.”
Cooper filed suit today against George Henry Smith of Robeson County for collecting payments from consumers who wanted to purchase manufactured homes, then failing to provide the homes as promised or return buyers’ money.
The complaint asks the court to cancel all contracts buyers signed with Smith and to order Smith to pay refunds to consumers and $5,000 in civil penalties. Cooper also asks that the defendant be permanently barred from:
— Engaging in unfair or deceptive business practices
— Advertising or attempting to sell manufactured homes without a license
— Accepting new orders or payments in North Carolina
According to an investigation by the Attorney General’s office, Smith advertised used and repossessed manufactured homes to consumers at his workplace, mobile phone store Page Talk, and at other locations in the Robeson County area. Smith targeted consumers who spoke limited English, including using business cards written in Spanish.
As alleged in the lawsuit, when consumers expressed interest in buying a manufactured home, Smith showed them homes he didn’t have permission to sell. At Prevatte Home Sales and Terry Pate Home Sales in Lumberton, Smith represented himself as a salesman to consumers and told sales lot employees that he was an agent for the consumers.
Smith reportedly pressured consumers to sign phony purchase agreements and pay deposits as large as $9,800. When the manufactured homes failed to arrive as Smith promised, consumers contacted the sales lots and learned that the homes they thought were theirs had already been sold to someone else or had never been available for sale. Smith has refused to refund victims’ money, leaving several families unable to afford rent and forced to move in with relatives.
“Before you put down money on a manufactured home, check out the dealer or agent thoroughly,” Cooper encouraged consumers. “Buying a home is the biggest purchase many families will ever make, and you owe it to yourself to ask around in your community for a reputable place to make such an important purchase.”
Consumers can check out manufactured home companies with the Attorney General’s Office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll free within North Carolina or contact their local Better Business Bureau. Consumers can find out if someone is licensed to sell manufactured housing by checking with the North Carolina Manufactured Housing Board. Visit ncdoj.gov for more tips on buying manufactured homes.
Any consumer who has paid Smith for a manufactured home is encouraged to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. Help is available toll-free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or in Spanish at 919-716-0058. Consumer complaints can also be filed online in English or Spanish.