The North Carolina Consumers Council is investigating what could be a significant rip-off operation in North Carolina and nationwide.
We received information from an NCCC member involving what appears to be an attempt to deceive homeowners into handing over a significant amount of money for worthless services. A resident of Wake County, he received a notice in the mail that at first glance appears to be from an official government agency located in downtown Raleigh. In fact, the letter he received is from a company that has received Better Business Bureau warnings and F ratings in Minnesota, North Dakota and Tennessee. The company has been banned from operating in Iowa in March 2011 due to these identical deceptive mailings.
The envelope was labeled "Record Retrieval Department" with a return address on Wilmington Street in downtown Raleigh, the seat of state government, near a number of other city and county service departments. We have been unable to locate any such company at the provided address and believe it is a mail drop similar to the one in Iowa that received mail and forwarded it to the company. We have since learned that "Record Retrieval Department" is a California-based company called State Record Retrieval Board, owned by Neil Camenker, that has also been doing business under other such names as "Record Retrieval," "State Record Regulation Department," and "State Record Regulation Board."
The front the envelope prominently contains a warning on the outside reading "$2,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment, or both for any person interfering or obstructing with delivery of the letter U.S. mail TTT.18.CODE." Only toward the bottom in smaller print does it say "not a government agency." It also reads "Final Notice – Please Open Immediately" in large highlighted print, leading anyone receiving it to believe that whatever is inside, potentially an outstanding bill, is extremely important and must be dealt with immediately.
The letter inside is both confusing and deceptive. Again there is another official-sounding name, "Deed Retrieval Services," along with bar codes and an official-looking 'Property ID' number, which appears to be identical on every notice they send nationwide. The top of the letter prominently says "Please detach coupon and mail with your payment."
The letter requests a payment of $87 to send you a copy of your home's current Grant Deed while also stressing the importance of having such a document and the information provided thereon with a specific recommendation from the "State Record Regulation Department," which in fact is the same company and worded in such a way to sound like a government agency. In fact, no legitimate government agency makes any such recommendation. Only buried deep in the text does the letter state that it does not come from a government agency.
It goes on to instruct the recipient to "return the enclosed envelope with your processing fee of $87." Additionally, the letter threatens to tack on a $35 late fee if the payment is not returned by a specific date. In this case, the recipient had just 6 business days to make payment or face the penalty.
The $87 fee is described as a processing fee, when in fact it is payment for an exorbitantly overpriced private and unnecessary service. In reality, should any consumer wish to obtain a copy of a deed, they should contact their local Registrar of Deeds. In this case, the cost of the consumer's deed was only 15 cents per page for a total of four pages. A certified copy of the deed would only cost $11. Homeowners do not need a copy. In fact, in many places this information is available for online viewing.
NCCC has seen multiple copies of the mailing and is extremely concerned that consumers are unknowingly and unsuspectingly thinking they are required to mail in this payment under penalty of law or other state enforcement action.
NCCC has filed a complaint with both the North Carolina State Attorney General's Office: Consumer Protection division and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting that the company be investigated and immediately barred from using such deceptive mailings. We are also requesting redress for consumers that have already been lured in by the deceptive mailings.
Consumers who have any issues with this company should immediately file complaints, as well.
UPDATE (March 6, 2013: This scam is currently being investigated and shut down by the United States Postal Inspection Service. NCCC was more than happy to provide Postal Service investigators with all the vital information we have gathered to date. Those behind the scam could face federal charges.
No word yet on any potential charges from the North Carolina State Attorney General's Office, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or redress for the many consumers across the country duped into spending money they didn't need to.