(DES MOINES, Iowa) Attorney General Tom Miller announced Monday that a California-based company called State Record Retrieval Board and its owner, Neil Camenker, have agreed to stop marketing “deed retrieval services” to Iowa residents, effective immediately.
Iowa homeowners contacted the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division after receiving official-looking mailings suggesting that they need to obtain copies of their deed, along with an offer to provide a copy of the document for $87. However, the operation is a business with no official authority, and homeowners can generally obtain certified copies of their deeds from their county recorder’s office for around $5, or in many counties obtain free online copies. Miller also noted that most homeowners do not need to have a deed on-hand anyway.
“We began to take a closer look at the company and its owner’s dubious practices,” Miller said, “and they promptly agreed to get out and stay out of Iowa.”
The mailings did disclose that the State Record Retrieval Board was not associated with a government agency and that the letter was just a solicitation. But those disclosures were buried where consumers were less likely to see and read them, Miller said, while various misleading features of the mailing were much more prominent.
According to Miller, several features of the mailing tended to create false impressions about the nature of the transaction, including:
- The use of a return address in Des Moines, the seat of state government. In fact, the Des Moines address was a rented mail drop, and mail received there was forwarded unopened to the California operation.
- The use of an official-looking “Property ID Number” on each mailing, which in fact was evidently the same for every property in every state, and not a unique identifier. Homeowners were even asked to write the apparently bogus ID number on their checks.
- A prominent reply deadline, coupled with a late fee, implying that the homeowner had a duty to act and act quickly, or face an administrative penalty.
- Characterizing the $87 payment as a “processing fee,” when in fact it was a private payment for overpriced services.
“Even the name – State Record Retrieval Board – is misleading,” Miller said. “This isn’t connected with the State and it isn’t any sort of Board. That name appears to be part of the basic ruse.&rdquo
Miller also said that consumers who have been misled and who wanted a refund so far have been able to get one from the company. Miller said that if any Iowan requests a refund and is refused, they should file a complaint by contacting the Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Call 515-281-5926, or 888-777-4590 toll free. Web site: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.
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