(DES MOINES, Iowa) A California company must stop marketing real estate documents to Iowa residents, under an agreement with Attorney General Tom Miller.
Juan Roberto Romero Ascencio, of Bellflower California, and his company, LA Investors LLC, which does business as “Local Records Office,” has agreed through an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance to permanently stop marketing property deeds and real estate titles in Iowa and to stop collecting money. The Consumer Protection Division investigated the company’s solicitations and charges to Iowans for property documents that are often readily available for free or a very small charge.
“It’s no accident that some Iowans who received this may think it’s some sort of official government invoice for their property records,” said Miller. “That’s why we wanted to put an immediate stop to it.”
In October a Cedar Falls man contacted the Consumer Protection Division after receiving an official-looking mailing from the “Local Records Office.” Recipients could construe the mailing, which lists an $89 service fee for a “property profile” that includes a property deed, as an official government invoice with a response deadline.
The mailing lists a Des Moines return address and appears to originate from Iowa. The return address is a Des Moines mail drop, which forwards responses and payments to California.
After learning about the scheme, Miller’s Consumer Protection Division issued a consumer fraud subpoena and intercepted more than 50 forms, including checks, from Iowans responding to the mailings. The Consumer Protection Division expects to return the checks, along with letters of explanation, to the senders.
Local Records Office is a business with no government affiliation or 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 them online for free. Miller noted that most homeowners do not need to have a deed on-hand anyway.
“If you really need property records, you should contact your county recorder’s office and find out what’s available,” Miller said. “The records may be available online, or you may need to go through the county office. Either way, the records may be free or cost you a very small amount. They certainly won’t cost you $89.”
The mailings disclose that Local Records Office is not associated with a government agency and that the letter is a solicitation. But those disclosures are buried where consumers are less likely to see and read them, Miller said, while various misleading features of the mailing are much more prominent.
According to Miller, several features of the mailing tend to create false impressions about the nature of the transaction, including:
- Local Records Office uses a return address in Des Moines, the seat of state government. In fact, the Des Moines address is a rented mail drop and, according to Miller, the only function of the Des Moines address was to mask the company’s California location.
- The mailings feature an official-looking “Property ID Number,” which is likely not a unique identifier.
- The mailings list a prominent reply deadline, implying that the homeowner has a duty to act and do so quickly.
- The company characterizes the $89 payment as a “service fee,” when in fact it is a private payment for overpriced services.
As part of the agreement, the company and its owner deny wrongdoing, but agree to the terms.
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. Website: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.
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