Beware of letter from private company selling public property records

On Special Assignment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It might look like an official document from the government, but it’s not. It’s a private business asking for your money, and critics worry they’re taking advantage of people.

“Essentially this is junk mail and you probably ought to throw it in your recycle bin,” real estate attorney Scott Turner said.

“It’s very discouraging because I think a lot of vulnerable people might fall for it,” said attorney Vickie Wilcox.

Click the image above for a closer look at the property records solicitation.

People who just bought a home or made changes to a deed will probably get a similar letter in the mail afterward. And if you don’t read it carefully, you might think it’s from the county or some other government agency.

“My opinion, it looks as though it came from the IRS,” Wilcox said. “The font and the formatting is very similar to correspondence you see when you look at your tax returns.”

Wilcox said she warns her estate planning clients about this letter.

It asks for a response by the end of the month, but you don’t have to respond at all. As it says in tiny font at the bottom, it is actually a solicitation.

“We had several clients come in and mention that they either had sent in the $86 or they were intending to, and then we realized it was a problem,” Wilcox said. “It’s very upsetting.”

The solicitation comes from a California-based business called Property Profile.

For $86, the private company said it compiles a report full of public information about a homeowner’s property so that the homeowner can make sure everything is accurate. They caution, “mistakes can affect property taxes.”

However, an online search of the company turned up quite a few complaints and warnings about this solicitation, including one from a Minnesota Attorney General. So, KRQE reached out to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office to see if they’ve weighed in on it.

“While the Office of the Attorney General cannot comment on the specific facts presented here, we are aware of similar scams that have been identified by attorneys general across the nation, as government imposter scams are on the rise everywhere,” said Matt Baca, Senior Counsel for the AG’s Office. “New Mexicans are encouraged to take steps to verify anytime someone claims they represent a government entity and to contact our office for assistance, if they feel they have been scammed.”

In the case of Property Profile, its own website shows that a frequently asked question is, “Is this a scam?”

“Well, obviously we’re not a scam.”

That’s what Karen with Property Profile told KRQE over the phone.

“I’d rather not give you my last name. I can give you my employee ID.”

She answered when KRQE News 13 called the company, asking for an interview. She said she is a customer service representative supervisor.

“I understand that people don’t understand our service. You being in the media, I’m sure you understand that people don’t often go online and write good things about you,” Karen said.

She said sometimes people are put off by the fact that the company has access to their property records.

“They call you up and they start screaming at you and they don’t give you the opportunity to explain because they read comments like that. But it’s not, we’re not a scam. You know, we state everything that we do on the letter. We say we’re not a government agency.”

The business said it creates its property reports by using “powerful software and cutting edge algorithms to analyze public information.” Key words there: public information.

“Took me about ten minutes to get all the information,” real estate attorney Scott Turner said.

He points out you can access the public records yourself at a fraction of the cost.

So, for example, below is a list of the kind of information that Property Profile it offers.

“Probably half the information on this form that they’re giving you, you can get off your tax bill,” Turner said.

If you don’t already have it handy, you can get it from the County Treasurer in-person or online. Tax records on the Bernalillo County Treasurer’s website are free.

You can get copies of deeds and mortgages through your County Clerk’s Office. It costs a dollar a page in Albuquerque.

For a home’s market value, Turner suggests Zillow.com or consulting a local real estate agent.

“Bottom line, someone gets this in the mail, what should they do?” KRQE asked Turner.

“Put it in the recycle bin,” he replied.

Ultimately, that’s up to you. But, remember, don’t let the format fool you. Read the fine print.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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