In the summer of 1996, Juanita Sweeney of Wilbur, Ky. opened her door to a salesman who said he represented a home improvement contractor. She wound up with a $17,000 loan she didn't ask for-and a big headache fending off an attempt to foreclose on the house where she and her four children lived.

"They didn't ask how much I made or how I would pay it back, they just told me that they would let me have the money," Ms. Sweeney said. "I really didn't want to borrow that much ... but they just kept pressuring and pressuring, so finally I went along."

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