SEATTLE — A Thurston County judge ordered a California company that scammed new Washington property owners into buying overpriced deeds to pay more than $3.6 million today, after granting summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Mary Sue Wilson granted summary judgment Feb. 12 against Bellflower, Calif.-based LA Investors, LLC, which conducts business as “Local Records Office.” The court found the company violated the state Consumer Protection Act at least 256,998 times by sending deceptive mailers.
Today’s decision addressed restitution to Washington consumers, penalties and costs. $856,981 will go to consumer restitution, $2,569,980 for civil penalties, and $176,806 will go toward covering the state’s costs in litigating this matter. The civil penalties will go to the state’s general fund.
The company sent official-looking notices implying that consumers must buy a dramatically overpriced $89 copy of their deeds. Deeds typically cost only a few dollars from a local county office, and many property owners can obtain a copy of their deed for free online.
“These fraudsters sought to line their pockets by selling government documents at a ridiculous mark-up,” Ferguson said. “Today, they are being held accountable – victims will get their money back and these scammers will pay a substantial penalty.”
Victims who have not already received a refund will have their $89 returned to them as a result of today’s decision.
Ferguson filed a lawsuit in November 2013, accusing the company of creating the impression that:
- It is necessary for consumers to obtain copies of their real property deeds through the defendants;
- The defendants are the equivalent of a 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.
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 paper copy of a deed for as little as $1 per page from the auditor or county recorder where the property is located. In fact, the vast majority of property owners can obtain a copy of their deed for free online.
The scam is not a new one. 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.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov