OLYMPIA — The Washington State Attorney General’s Office (AGO) has filed a Consumer Protection Act lawsuit against a Bellflower, Calif. company that preys on unsuspecting new property owners.
Although the AGO sued a company for a very similar scam in 2011, these whack-a-mole scams keep popping up. The AGO encourages property owners to be on the lookout.
The company the AGO recently filed a lawsuit against, Local Records Office, mails solicitations to consumers who have recently purchased property offering to sell them a copy of their real property deed for a fee of $89.
Local Records Office sends the solicitations in an envelope that says “IMPORTANT PROPERTY INFORMATION RESPOND PROMPTLY” on the front. The return address on the envelope is usually a mail drop or post office box located in the consumer’s state capital. This has led some consumers to believe that the letter is coming from a state government agency.
In Washington, deeds are filed in the county where the property is located. A person can obtain a copy of a deed for as little as $1 per page from the auditor or county recorder where the property is located. Most property deeds are only one to two pages in length, so consumers should only pay a couple of dollars for a copy of their deed.
“Local Records Office uses deceptive business practices to scam consumers,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “My office is going after them to prevent consumers from being duped out of money.”
The AGO alleges the defendants’ solicitations create the impression:
• It is necessary for consumers to obtain copies of their real property deeds through the defendants;
• The defendants are the equivalent of a consumer’s county auditor or recording office;
• A copy of their deed is needed in the event of a property dispute;
• That $89 is a necessary or appropriate fee for receiving the property deed;
• The solicitation comes from a governmental agency; and
• The solicitation is a bill or invoice the consumer is obligated to comply with and/or pay.
The AGO is seeking civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation and restitution for all affected consumers.
Assistant Attorney General Brooks Clemmons is lead on this case.
In 2011, the AGO 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.”
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.