The "Deed Scam" was discussed here on Source of Title more than a decade ago, and it hasn't gone away. It refers to the official looking letter that warns you that you need a certified copy of your deed and then offers to get it for you... for $70.00, or more. Considering I can get a certified copy for about $6.00 at the court house, I have always felt that this was nothing but a scam. And, I'm not alone.
In 2014, an article appeared on Realtor.com, Beware of This Deed Scam:
Gitte Laasby at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently reported on scammers contacting new home buyers with a seemingly legitimate solicitation offering to send a copy of their property deed and other information for $83.
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At first, the solicitation known as a “Deed Processing Notice” seems legitimate. On the copy we reviewed, the property information is included, along with county information, a compliance date, and a “helpful” tip box offering answers to “Why you need your current Grant Deed and property file.”
The problem is, you don’t need your deed. Those documents are mailed to you free after a sale or transfer. And if you need another copy, you can order one through your county clerk’s office for a few dollars. In some counties you can also order deed copies online.
There have been several warnings about the scam across the Internet: from Cuyahoga County Consumer Affair; the City of Kansas; from Illinois Representative David Welter; the Montgomery County (PA) Recorder; the Miller County (AR) Circuit Clerk; and many, many more. They all point out that you can get a copy of your deed from the county recorder's office for just a few dollars.
A few years ago, my dad received one of these letters and thank goodness he showed it to me before he sent them a check. I explained to him that he didn't need a copy of his deed - that we could always get it from the county recorder if a need arose. He had just bought the house and the letter arrived within a week or so. Shortly after our conversation, he received his original deed from the title company, along with his title policy.
Earlier this year, Representative Jeff Rezabek, introduced House Bill 52, "to regulate the solicitation of certain deeds." If it passes, it will require that persons "soliciting a fee for providing a copy of a deed" to state certain information at the top of the letter, in at least 24 point type, including:
- That the solicitation is not from a public body;
- That no action is legally required by the person being solicited;
- The statutory fee for, or the cost of, obtaining a copy of the deed from the county recorder who has custody of the deed;
- The information necessary to contact that county recorder; and,
- The name and physical address of the person soliciting the fee.
But, the bill doesn't stop there. It also prohibits the "use of deadline dates or other language that makes the document appear to be a document issued by a public body or that appears to impose a legal duty on the person being solicited." And, it limits the amount that such solicitors can charge - it cannot be more than 4 times the fee charged by the county recorder, pursuant to O.R.C. § 317.32. For example, a solicitor cannot charge more than $24.00 for a certified copy of a two page deed.
The new law would also require that before anyone can mail such solicitations, they have to provide a copy of letter they intend to use to the County Recorder of each county where they will be soliciting, at least 15 days prior to distributing it.
Failure to comply with the law will have civil and criminal consequences. Civilly, it makes all violations "an unconscionable consumer sales act or practice" which may entitle a civil litigant to treble damages and attorney fees. Criminally, a violation is a minor misdemeanor with a fine for reckless violations. The fine for the first such violation is up to $100.00 per solicitation, and subsequent violations can carry fines up to $200 per solicitation. Those fines could add up quickly.
The bill unanimously passed the House Civil Justice Committee, but it still has a long way to go before it becomes law.