BBB and Attorney General’s Office warn against purchasing pricey documents
OLYMPIA…The Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau are warning Washington residents to read the fine print before responding to letters from businesses offering to sell them copies of records easily accessible from local government offices for a much lower price.
The Yakima Herald-Republic recently reported Yakima County residents had received letters from the “Local Records Office” charging $89 for a copy of their property deed. According to the Herald-Republic, Yakima County officials say those documents are available from the county auditor’s office for $1 per page.
“The Attorney General’s Office helps protect people from deceptive marketing practices such as these. The documents offered by these companies are readily available at a much lower cost from local government offices,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
“Consumers who give out their personal information and pay unnecessary fees are at risk of getting taken,” warns Robert W.G. Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington.
“People need to verify whether services are optional, and from there, make sure the business they hire is legitimate and reputable.”
Local Records Office is not the first company to offer high-priced copies of property deeds to Washington residents. In 2011, the Attorney General’s Office settled with State Record Retrieval Board, a company that sent deceptive notices to Washington residents, informing them that if they didn’t pay $87 to obtain a copy of their deed, they would be charged an additional $35 for missing the “deadline.”
These businesses deceive consumers by sending letters that look like they were sent by government agencies. While the letters do include a disclaimer that the company is not affiliated with any government agency, the letters also employ a number of deceptive tactics, including:
- Language on the outside of the envelope citing state or federal laws and advising that any person interfering with or obstructing the delivery of the letter faces a $2,000 fine and/or five years imprisonment;
- A message instructing consumers to respond promptly;
- A “Please Respond By” date which creates a false sense of urgency;
- Sections for “Property Zone,” “Assessed Value,” “Use Code,” and “Legal Property Address” that create the impression of governmental action, responsibility and oversight; and
- Out-of-state business and professional codes that create a false sense of authority and legitimacy.
The letters target residents shortly after they complete some type of transfer or sale of the property identified in the offer, taking advantage of the fact that many people may not realize they already have a copy of their deed of trust or they can get a copy of their at their county clerk or auditor's office for as little as a dollar per page.
The AGO Consumer Protection Division encourages anyone who paid money to a private company after receiving a letter like the one described above to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office at or call the office’s Consumer Resource Center at 1-800-551-4636 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Complainants may also file with Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.
- Janelle Guthrie, AGO Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725
- David Quinlan, BBB Director of Public Relations, (206) 676-4119