Some 5,000 Washington residents received letters last year from the "State Record Retrieval Board," a non-existent organization whose Olympia address listed on the spurious notifications is a UPS Store drop box.
The letters directed recipients to mail $87 to obtain a copy of their property deed and warned of a $35 penalty if they missed the tight deadline. Legitimate copies of property deeds, the attorney general's office notes, can be obtained from county auditors for approximately $10.
At least 45 hapless residents responded to the mailers with checks, but the attorney general's Office says they were misled and are owed refunds."The notices were deceptive junk mail designed to trick people into buying something they don't need," Assistant Attorney General Jack Zurlini said in a statement. "Even if there were a government agency named the 'State Record Retrieval Board' -- which there isn't -– it wouldn't charge you $87 for a property deed."
The sender of the fake notifications is a California-based business that's sent similar notices to consumers nationwide. The State Record Retrieval Board is owned by Neil L. Camenker and has earned an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau.
The BBB rating also notes the following alert for the State Record Retrieval Board:
After the attorney general's office issued a warning about the bogus letters on its All Consuming blog in December 2010, a number of readers replied that they'd received the mailers and were considering sending the fraudsters money.
On April 27, 2011, this company advised the Bureau via mailed letter that they ceased doing business as of January 1, 2011. As of May 10, 2011, Bureau personnel contacted the company's phone number and the company appears to still be in operation.
The attorney general's Office sued Camenker and his company, and just announced a settlement that prevents them from sending more mass solicitations in Washington that include misrepresentations or try to compel consumers to reply.
Camenker agreed to pay $3,915 in consumer refunds plus $1,085 to reimburse the state for attorneys' fees and legal costs. The defendants also face $15,000 in civil penalties if they fail to comply with the settlement's restrictions on their business practices.