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Via U.S. Mail, I received a mailing piece, that in the upper left-hand corner states:

SANTA CLARA COUNTY
NOTIFICATION OF PAYMENT REDUCTION

There is no other indication of the source other than the bulk rate permit, which specifies "Santa Ana, CA".

This is purposefully designed to give the impression that it is a message from the county government, but in fact, it is an advertisement from Insite Financial Corporation.

On the inside of the mailing piece, it states: FORM 610-E SANTA CLARA COUNTY ATTENTION: NOTIFICATION OF PAYMENT REDUCTION

It also states: AUTHORIZED FINANCIAL INSTITUTION: Insite Financial Corp.

There is plenty of other verbiage designed to give the impression that this is in fact an official government notice, when it's nothing of the sort.

I submitted this via the Better Business Bureau complaint system. They forwarded this response from Insite Financial Corp:

Company states the marketing company that they use had this piece of mail examined by several real estate attorneys and the district attorneys. They found it in no way identifies them in having anything to do with any local, state or federal government agencies. This piece is being distributed in millions per month by many companies and to accept this complaint as anything other than a fluke would be a mistake.

I submitted a rebuttal statement:

The proper standard is whether use of this mailer constitutes an unfair or deceptive business practice. "Deceptive" merely means they intend to or tend to create an erroneous impression. The BBB must apply a higher standard than "Would law enforcement be willing to prosecute?" if it is to have any meaning to involve itself in business-consumer disputes. The mailer includes a deceptive "return address" and several other indications that would suggest to an ordinary person that it is an official mailing. The only question the BBB needs to determine is whether or not Insite did this in an attempt to confuse the recipient. What other reason would they have for using such techniques?

Insite Financial replied:

Company states Insite Financial is not in the business of deceiving its customers. We maintain our position that we are within full compliance of the law. We would further add that if the consumer had called and asked any of our representatives if we were with the county or any other local, state or federal agencies he would have been informed that we were not. Our current mailing piece as of 01/01/07 has several changes to it, one of which is adding the word president after the county. We have removed the consumer from "our" mailing list.

I'm amused that they think that changing the return address to read:

SANTA CLARA COUNTY PRESIDENT
NOTIFICATION OF PAYMENT REDUCTION

is going to make their mailing any less deceptive.

Regardless, if you are a prospective customer of Insite Financial, then you get to vote. You can vote to support a company that sends out intentionally deceptive mailings, or you can go to one of numerous competitive services, surely several of which would be able to meet or beat any offers by Insite Financial, and send the message that companies that use deceptive practices don't deserve your business.

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