President Obama and the Native American Community

Protecting funds from the Cobell v. Salazar settlement

Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Blog

Hundreds of thousands of Native Americans started getting the first payments last week as part of a long-awaited settlement with the federal government over its management as trustee of Individual Indian Money Accounts. The settlement, commonly known as Cobell v. Salazar, means the arrival of funds for Native Americans across the country. Cash payments like this can be a great opportunity for consumers to build up their assets—but we also anticipate scammers targeting settlement recipients, looking to separate these communities from their money.

If you received money from the Cobell settlement, here are some simple steps you can take to protect your money:

  • Take your time. Beware of “opportunities” that force you to make a snap decision—high pressure “act now” offers are often used to keep you from understanding the true costs and risks of a product. Never sign anything without asking questions and understanding it first. If necessary, ask a trusted relative, friend, tribal official, or attorney for a second opinion before acting.
  • Pay off debt. If you took out a loan anticipating money from the settlement or use other expensive credit products, the settlement check is a good opportunity to pay down that debt.
  • Save. Consider using the settlement funds to start saving. People with savings are better prepared to handle financial emergencies—like a major car or home repair—and are less likely to rely on expensive debt.

We also want to remind companies that are planning on doing business with Cobell recipients to conscientiously comply with all consumer protection laws. CFPB is charged with protecting consumers from unfair, deceptive, abusive, or discriminatory financial practices, which could impact Cobell recipients. The enforcement team will continue to be on the watch for scams and other harmful financial products that target Native Americans. Consumers and tribal leaders shouldn’t hesitate to let us know if they are seeing financial practices that are deceptive, unfair, abusive, or discriminatory.

Report problems with payday loans, settlement anticipation loans, auto loans, or anything bought with credit. Submit a complaint online at consumerfinance.gov/complaint or call us at (855) 411-2372.

You can also:

If you think you’ve been scammed, report suspected fraud immediately. The longer you wait, the more difficult it could be to get your money back when appropriate.

Responding to the Cobell settlement is one part of our broader ongoing collaboration with tribal governments and consumers across Indian Country. We’re excited about opportunities to advance consumer education and empowerment in tribal communities, carefully examine consumer protection concerns in Indian Country, and partner with tribal officials to prevent harmful practices targeting Native American consumers.

Nick Rathod is the Assistant Director for Intergovernmental and International Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Kent Markus is the Assistant Director for the Office of Enforcement at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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