The Checkout

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."

This mailing is not as official as it looks. Take a look at the full mortgage pitch.

"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.

By Annys Shin |  January 26, 2007; 9:00 AM ET Consumer News
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Hah, that would be a great idea, I'll do that right after I take the time to craft a nice looking bill to send to the telecom companies for all my time they have wasted! lol

Posted by: Chris | January 26, 2007 11:02 AM

I love it! Let me make up one of those things to get Koons Chevrolet and GM *Protection Plan* to reimburse me nearly $2,000 in rental expenses for three months while they farted around with my 2003 vehicle, instead of just replacing the engine to begin with. Then, I'll get Comcast for routinely dropping my cable internet signal, and Arlington for negotiating cable frachises without Quality of Service guarantees.

Posted by: bigolpoofter | January 26, 2007 11:37 AM

As nice as that would be, why waste time?

I got one of these letters, and they certainly did a good job. I was suspicious that it was a fake thing, but opened anyway.

I have to say, having been duped that far, I certainly wasn't going to do business with the company. That's what I don't get--isn't anyone who's tricked into opening one of these letters going to resent the fact and be even less likely to use the business offer?

Posted by: ah | January 26, 2007 11:41 AM

You would think that people would resent the fact about these companies but if you are an elderly person and receive on of these missives whos to say you do not believe it is from a government agency. I have a hard enough time convincing my mom that missives from groups that say they represent fire department and veteran associations are scams and not the real thing.

Posted by: tad | January 26, 2007 11:50 AM

I'll get right on that, as soon as I'm done mailing out the "Changes in Terms of Agreement" letters to my credit card companies.

Posted by: Audentes | January 26, 2007 1:02 PM

this is right up there with the fake auto warranty extensions that get sent out -- sad thing is, the people they are really aimed at are older people who tend to trust people -- the fools! -- and when something that looks official shows up, they answer it.

and to think there are still idiots around who say "You know, most people are basically honest."


Posted by: ogden, utah | January 26, 2007 6:01 PM

The giveaway is the Pre-sorted printed "stamp" in the upper right corner. I don't even bother opening anything with a Pre-sorted stamp. Straight to the shredder it goes unopened.

Posted by: LFH | January 29, 2007 1:57 PM

How old are you?

Posted by: Kendall | February 5, 2007 7:01 AM

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