Washington Attorney General Goes After Second Company for Deed Scam
November 26, 2013
After settling with a company in 2011 for preying on unsuspecting new property owners, the Washington State Attorney General's Office (AGO) has filed a Consumer Protection Act lawsuit against a California-based Local Records Office offering to sell copies of deeds for $89.
According to the lawsuit, Local Records Office mailed solicitations that said "IMPORTANT PROPERTY INFORMATION RESPOND PROMPTLY" on the front of the envelop. The return address was usually a mail drop or post office box located in the consumer's state capital. This led some consumers to believe that the letter is coming from a state government agency, according to the lawsuit.
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 defendant's 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
- 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.
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."