ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- A St. Louis woman was tricked into paying $95 after an official-looking letter arrived at her home, triggered by her recent records request from city hall.
Eleanor Bowen said the envelope arrived with "important information enclosed" stamped on the front, and a warning of a $2,000 fine, or 5 years in prison for anyone that interferes with its delivery.
Inside, the letter said for a $95 fee, Bowen could receive her property assessment profile, which includes a copy of her deed. The deed was something she had requested for her Central West End condo the week before from St. Louis City Hall, so she paid the $95.
"The check had been cashed just a few days after I sent it," she said.
When she did not receive her deed, Bowen called city hall. That's when a clerk told her the $95 request was not from the city, but was in fact an act of fraud. The letter is from a company called Property Site in Fresno, California. The address on the envelope goes back to a rented mailbox and it does state it is not a government-approved or authorized document. But Bowen thought it was associated with her call to city hall.
Brian Quinn is an attorney who specializes in estate planning, representing many elderly clients who have been confused by mailers like the one that targeted Bowen.
"There are certain services out there that will monitor this and they will usually send out a very official-looking letter stating in order to get your property report, you need to pay us between $80 and $100," he said.
Attorneys like Quinn want people to be aware pf the scam, and to pay attention to the mail elderly relatives are receiving. He said no one should ever pay for records they can obtain directly from city hall with little or no fee.
"Unfortunately, they feel embarrassed and taken advantage of, but that's something everyone needs to be on the lookout for if they are refinancing, if they are transferring title in any way. Either to a trust or a family member," Quinn said. "There's a likelihood you are going to get this letter."
News 4 Investigates emailed Property Site for a response, and they claimed the property deed is complimentary, and that consumers are actually paying for a 30-40 page report called a property assessment profile.
They also added this statement:
"This customer is definitely someone who misunderstood our letter and obviously this is not something she wanted as she thought it was for a grant deed, we have initiated a refund check which should be mailed out within the next 48 business hours. It's really difficult to understand why this customer didn't call us all this could have been very easily avoided."
Property Site said their letter tells consumers they are under no obligation to use their services, and claim they are charging a service fee to compile information, but not a fee to obtain public records.
Bowen said she ultimately received a pamphlet of info that included information like crime stats and property values, but nothing about her deed which is the only thing she wanted. She was thankful to get a full refund.