Smart About Money: “Is this letter really from the bank”

Nick Maffeo

A customer called about a “Final Notice” letter she had received at her home address regarding a “home warranty” on a rental property she owns in town.

The letter referenced the address of the rental property and very prominently mentioned the bank that held the mortgage.

Her first question was, “Is this letter really from the bank?” Since her husband had been struggling with health issues and the letter said “Final Notice,” she was concerned that she had somehow missed something. “How can it be a final notice when I never even got a first notice?” she asked.

She was relieved to hear that the letter had nothing to do with her mortgage. It wasn’t from the bank. And the calculated use of the term “Final Notice” was just a shady marketing tactic from a company trying to make her think she had to take action now. There had probably been no earlier notices.

This woman then got kind of angry at that company. She wondered how they knew her home address, the address of her rental property and the name of the bank where she had a mortgage on that property.

As it so happens, that information is recorded at the Registry of Deeds. Since it’s public information, the database is available to companies who want to reach out to homeowners for various reasons.

Some are genuine offers a homeowner might find useful, like a “Welcome!” packet for newcomers or a mailing from a home heating oil company.

Others are selling services most homeowners don’t need or want. For many, a “home warranty” would fall into that category.

As a general rule of thumb, it probably pays to steer clear of any company that’s trying to convince you they represent or are affiliated with your bank or the U.S. Government or a program like Medicare – but they’re not!

Often there will be language in their marketing making the non-association quite clear. For example, many people have noticed that there are several coin companies whose names seem to suggest they are the official mint of the United States. In the small type (and probably to protect themselves legally), they admit they’re not affiliated with the genuine U.S. Mint, the U.S. Government, the Treasury or any government agency.

Or perhaps somewhere on a piece specifically-designed to not look like an ad, you’ll see the words, “This is an advertisement.”

Small type isn’t always there but – if it is – that can be one way to determine who you’re really dealing with and what they’re really selling.

Reputable companies do not use scare tactics, so that’s always a serious red flag. Especially when there’s any pressure for you to act immediately.

As it turns out, this customer did exactly the right thing. First, when she wasn’t sure if a communication was from her bank, she called the bank to verify.

Since she didn’t need a “home warranty” for her rental property, she didn’t get one. If she had wanted a warranty for something specific like the gas system, she could have done her own research about reputable providers – avoiding the high-pressure company that used deceptive tactics from its very first contact with her.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to info@cantoncoopbank.com.

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