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Deceptive mailers vex area residents

When an official-looking envelope from the County of Nevada came in the mail for Cedar Ridge resident James Keefer, his wife teased him, figuring it was a jury summons.

Instead, when the Keefers opened the envelope, which also looked something like a property tax bill, they discovered a solicitation from a lending company, American Heritage Lending of Aliso Viejo, Calif.

“I’m really offended by this type of advertising. It’s deceitful and I think it should be stopped,” Kathie Keefer said.



Last week, County Counsel Robert Shulman sent a “cease and desist” letter to the company, calling the use of the words “County of Nevada” in the return-address line a “false representation of official government business.”

Shulman sent additional copies of the letter to the District Attorney’s office and the California Department of Consumer Affairs.




“One glance at your envelopes would lead the average citizen to believe that he or she is being contacted by the County of Nevada on a subject pertaining to his or her home ownership (i.e. property taxes, assessments, etc.),” Shulman wrote.

An American Heritage spokesman called the marketing campaign a “bad call,” even though the U.S. Postal Service determined the mailers were legal.

“There does not appear to be any violation of any postal codes” because a return address did not appear below the words “County of Nevada,” said Augustine Ruiz, spokesperson for the Postal Service’s Sacramento district.

‘Knock-it-off’ letter

Shulman wrote the “knock-it-off” letter after a reporter from The Union informed him for the first time the mailings were circulating in the county, based on Keefer’s complaint. The Union left a copy of the mailing with Schulman at his request.

Shortly after receiving the mail in July, Kathie Keefer contacted the company that sent it and her county representative, District 3 Supervisor and Board of Supervisors Chairman John Spencer.

Spencer told Keefer he would look into the matter, but she didn’t hear from him until two months later, following a second, more agitated fax from Keefer, she said.

Then, she received a letter from Spencer that read, in part:

“When I looked at the mailing you received, I found it to be like those many items at home I open and discard. Certainly today’s home loan market has evolved to a very different animal. I would expect they will try pushing the envelope with their solicitations, and unfortunately we will have to be more vigilant in our review of mailings. I don’t think you are alone as a target.”

The supervisors response felt like a “pat on the head,” said Keefer.

“I was very disappointed in John Spencer’s response to me. I thought it was insulting, and I think he should have at least looked into it,” Keefer said.

When contacted by The Union last week, Spencer said he “got side-tracked” with other duties and didn’t show the letter to County Counsel.

In the end, however, Keefer received a letter from a Board of Supervisors clerk last week contending that “Supervisor Spencer also communicated your concern to our County Council.”

Keefer was not impressed.

“He treated me like an imbecile,” Keefer said. “Then the newspaper went to county council, and he’s taking credit for it.”

She added: “My intention was not to malign John Spencer . . . but I am appalled.”

Nevada County residents weren’t the only ones to receive deceptive-looking mailers from American Heritage Lending, a subsidiary of Advanced Horizon Corp. and Oxford Lending Group.

The mailers were a marketing campaign gone wrong, and the lending companies involved were “inundated” with calls from several counties, said Steve Carpenter, a spokesman for Oxford Lending Group.

“We had a lot of complaints and confusion,” Carpenter said.

Since then, the lending agencies have pulled back from using county look-a-like

envelopes, Carpenter said.

“It was just a bad, bad call,” Carpenter said.

ooo

City Editor Trina Kleist contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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