Questionable sales tactics: Sales letters disguised as bills

October 26, 2016

By Jonathan Fouch

Originally posted in August, 2013

A client came in the other day a bit confused.

Earlier this year, we had deeded his property into his trust. It was a normal procedure. He came in, signed the warranty deed we had prepared, and paid us for the total cost of the services (which included the recording fee paid to the county).

Everything was taken care of…or so he thought.

Months later, he received what looked like a bill from Oakland County regarding this property. The amount due was $83.00. There was a response date, a detachable payment slip with a bar code, and an enclosed envelope.

A bill for $83.00? How could this be? He had already paid our firm for everything.

He looked again at the document.

Something didn’t seem right. There was no official Oakland County seal, and the text did not read like a bill, but more like a sales letter.

What was being sold was essentially repackaged, free information

Puzzled, he brought the document to our office. It didn’t take us long to inform him that he was the victim of a questionable sales tactic. In this case, it was a company trying to sell him fairly trivial information about his own property. But the letter used to sell him this information was formatted in every way to look like a bill.

Many of our clients have been exposed to this tactic in recent months. The perpetrator is a company based out of Delaware. Here’s how their scheme works:

1. They obtain free, easily-accessible, public information regarding your recently-filed deed.

2. They then send you a sales letter – formatted like a bill - offering to sell you this information for $83.00.

The “information” they’re trying to sell you is a copy of your deed and a so-called “Property Profile.”

In regard to the deed, you will receive the original version from the county once the county finishes recording it. There’s no need for a copy, and even if you eventually need one, most counties will charge you much less than $83.00. The other item of information, the Property Profile, is just basic data about the property (such as the address and parcel number) that you can obtain for free by calling the county, or in some cases using an Internet search engine such as Google.

Not illegal, but still questionable

Selling free or normally inexpensive information to you at premium is not illegal per se. I, for example, have every right to sell you a $99.99 report chock-full of such valuable information as your birth date and zodiac sign.

Nonetheless, we believe this practice is highly questionable. First, there’s little value in what’s being sold to you. Further, the sales letter is designed in every way to resemble a bill, with due dates and all. So, it’s completely possible that some of our clients might open it up and conclude that it is indeed a bill, costing them $83.00.

Now to be fair, the company does disclaim at the bottom of the page that the letter is a solicitation – not a bill. But a busy and distracted person may not read the disclaimer and end up paying the $83.00 anyway.

What can be learned from all this? There are many questionable sales tactics out there, so you have to stay vigilant. Always be sure to read anything that looks like a bill carefully. If you’re still confused, call us and we’ll help.

Have you been exposed to what you think is a questionable sales tactic? Comment below or send an email to us at info@sadplaw.com. We would be glad to hear from you.

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Jonathan Fouch is the Marketing Director of Shea Aiello. His previous positions at the firm include being an Operations Manager and a Paralegal.

The information in this blog post is based on general legal and tax rules and is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal or tax advice. Readers should consult their own legal and tax advisors as to their specific legal or tax situation as it may require more complex analysis, or the consideration of other information.