Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lawyer's Direct Mail Solicitations Intended For Homeowners In Foreclosure Mistakenly Sent To Those With Either On-Time Or Paid-Off Mortgages Instead, Leaving Hundreds Of Recipients Freaked Out

The Oregonian reports:

  • The letter began with a bang.

    "Dear Friend, I am writing because I saw your residence on a list of house (sic) in danger of being foreclosed and lost by their owners."

    Sue Bernert's 84-year-old father read it and, understandably, freaked out. Though the retired lawyer had paid off his home two decades ago, he worried that something had gone terribly wrong or that his identity had been stolen.

    "That letter made him confused and anxious," Bernert said. "That's a crummy way to solicit business."
    Kelly Kennedy Brown, a bankruptcy lawyer from Southwest Portland, sent the letters in late June. Well actually, as he explained on his website soon after, he hadn't meant to send them – at least not to the 16,711 local consumers who received them.

    Brown, a member of the Oregon State Bar since 1983 who's never faced disciplinary action, told The Desk he bought a list of addresses from a direct-mail company based in Florida.

    The list was supposed to be made up of folks who'd fallen behind on their house payments or were in foreclosure. Instead, he said, he received a list of consumers, who like Bernert's father, had no mortgage at all or were current on their payments.

    "My main concern is the unnecessary distress the mailing caused to a large number of its unintended recipients," Brown wrote on his website. "I do not know how to fix that, other than to post this note of apology."

    The Desk has an idea: Mail another letter explaining the mistake.

    Bernert said her father doesn't use a computer and wouldn't have seen the digital mea culpa. Still, even PC access is no guarantee anyone would have gone looking for it.

    Brown said he tried to stop the mailing as the first upset calls began trickling in, but the mailing company said it couldn't. He's distressed and frustrated by the mistake but says he can't afford the $7,700 in postage to send new letters explaining the mistake.

    Perhaps that wouldn't help, anyway. Even after Bernert explained the mistake, she said. her father was still so concerned that he asked her to check his credit to be sure his identity was safe.
  • He's heard from 476 upset recipients since the letter went out June 21. The Oregon Department of Justice heard from consumers, too, as did the Oregon State Bar, which dismissed the few complaints it received because there appeared to be no rule violations, said Kateri Walsh, the group's spokeswoman.

    The state bar sets advertising guidelines for members, which includes wording that they shouldn't make statements that are false and misleading.

    Still, The Desk contends, when someone works off a list with more than 16,000 names, there's bound to be errors -- be it outdated information or a simple goof. So it's important not to scare the wits out of the recipient.

    Brown said that he's written around six such letters each week to folks whose names he received from title companies and he's never received a complaint. He admits that, in hindsight, he should have toned down the wording of the letter when he aimed for a broader audience.

    The Desk appreciates Brown's honesty. Mistakes do happen.

    However, when Brown purchased the list for around $13,000, he was told that as much as 20 percent of it could be inaccurate.

    Put another way, he knew when the letters went out that as many as 3,200 folks could open an envelope, see that line and worry that it was a mistake.

    Or not.

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