Updated: Tuesday, 04 Nov 2008, 1:21 PM EST
Published : Friday, 29 Aug 2008, 5:49 PM EDT
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) -- Kent County home owners are being flooded with official-looking letters filled with dire warnings. The first thing Mike Lutley noticed was bold type: "Attention all property owners. Your rights may be in jeopardy if you do not possess a legal title to your home..." He thought it was a scare tactic.
There are at least two versions arriving in Kent County homes. They are from the same company but use two different names, Michigan Document Retrieval Service and Michigan Document Procurement Service. They contain legal sounding language and even quote Michigan law.
"It's pretty convincing language," said Chief Deputy Kent County Register of Deeds Jerome Czaja. He said his office has been flooded with phone calls from concerned home owners. They sent out a news release warning home owners.
"They're basically trying to scare you into buying their expensive copies," said home owner Lutley.
The letter offers to sell home owners a copy of their deed for $49.50. The Register of Deeds is concerned because the county office sells the same document for around $3. And most home owners probably have a copy of their deed lying around somewhere because they are routinely part of the package they get when they buy their home.
In any case, they are available cheaply from the County office.
The companies behind the scheme are among several business entities associated with three Lansing-area brothers: Thomas, Joseph and Steven Fata, according to Michigan corporate records.
Target 8 Investigators wanted to talk to them about the letters and went to the business address the companies use on West Saginaw in Lansing. The address is a UPS mail box store. The clerk said he didn't know the company names we mentioned but also said he couldn't talk about anyone who has a mail box there.
A visit to Thomas Fata's home found nobody answering the door. Target 8 called the business number listed on the letters and as soon as we identified ourselves the line went dead.
Some of the Fata businesses have been in trouble with officials in at least eight states. One company, Mandatory Poster Agency, was accused of tricking restaurants into buying their pricy posters of proper handwashing techniques by convincing them they faced big fines if they didn't post them.
Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox accused them of "dishonest" and "unethical" marketing practices.
Now they're trying to sell hyper-priced deed copies in Kent County.
"I find that offensive," Lutley said. He worries that "a lot of people might succumb to the scare tactic and spend $50 unnecessarily."
Chief Deputy Register of Deeds Czaja said, "I think it's pretty crazy the way someone can take advantage of someone who is not really knowing what's going on."
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