Is That Letter From the IRS? Not.
If you live in the District, you may have received an official looking notice in the mail titled "Payment Reduction Program, District of Columbia Residents 2007 Non-Rental Housing."
"It is very important that you respond to this notice immediately," the notice reads.
Despite its appearance, the letter turns out to be a cold refinancing pitch from Houston-based Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corp., the nation's largest privately held mortgage broker/banker.
(Allied, if you're curious, was the target of a civil rights complaint last year by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which conducted fair lending tests in St. Louis, Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. In 2003, Allied also settled allegations by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that it charged consumers more than the cost of their credit reports.)
Direct marketers trying to psych consumers out with come-ons that look like official government documents is nothing new. There's even a law on the books banning the use of any "seal, insignia, trade or brand name which could reasonably be construed as implying any Federal Government connection or endorsement."
Marketers, though, still can't resist dressing up solicitations to look like government forms. Last fall, the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection and HUD sent cease-and-desist letters to USA Home Loans Inc., of Towson, Md., for their very official looking direct marketing solicitation. USA Home Loans' letter had a phony seal at the top of the letterhead that made it look like HUD had sent it. The final flourish was a signature from someone claiming to be chief administrator.
The Allied pitch does a pretty good job of looking like the product of some cross between the IRS and the District bureaucracy, though they left out the killer D.C. flag (one of the best looking state/municipal flags, in my humble opinion). Let's critique, shall we?
* The typeface is straight out of the Internal Revenue Service. It's the same font you would find on your W-2 and 1040.
* In the top left-hand corner, the last two digits in "2007" are shaded black, just like they are on federal tax forms.
* In the top right-hand corner is "HHE No. DC042406" as if it is a D.C. government form.
* In the bottom right-hand corner is yet another paperwork ID tag. It reads "form SPRP-1 (11/06)."
The notice eventually discloses that it's not from Uncle Sam. At the very bottom of the page in the smallest type appear the words: "AHMCC is not a government agency."
Are there graphic designers out there who specialize in this type of copycatting? Has anyone out there tried to turn the tables on these guys and send them forms that look like they're urgent missives from the taxman? If so, I'd love to see them.
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