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The Certified Copy Racket
by Robert Franco | 2007/12/06 |

Most of us have heard of National Deed Service. They are the outfit that sends very official looking letters to homeowners offering to provide them with a certified copy of their deed for around $70. A copy which is available from the county for just a few dollars.

Recently, David Bloys, founder of News for County Officials, sent me a copy of one of the letters that National Deed Service sends to homeowners.

Our records, obtained from public information, show that Property Deed Document #XXXXX recorded December 11, 2006 indicates your ownership interest in the property located at 123 Main St.

At the time you purchased your property, a deed was prepared that shows the title was transferred to you. This deed was recorded by the Lubbock County County Clerk.

The U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center website recommends that property owners should have an official or certified copy of their deed. If you don't already have this important document, you may obtain one now. This document provides evidence that your property was transferred to you.

To obtain a Certified Copy of your Deed, complete the order form below and return it in the enclosed postage paid envelope with your payment of $69.50 which includes location, retrieval, postage and handling or fill in the credit card information below and either mail or fax your order to XXX-XXX-XXXX.

Due to the large number of transactions, this will be your only notice of our service.

All orders will be handled promptly.

National Deed Service, Inc.

[below this, is a stub to tear off and mail in with payment.]

The problem I have with this type of service, is that it takes advantage of the elderly, and those who don't know that they can get this copy themselves for next to nothing. The other side of this, as some people see it, is that it is a convenience that may be worth the fee. However, they don't sell it that way; they don't let people know how to obtain it themselves for a few dollars and offer to provide the convenience. Instead they create a sense of need and hope that people will pay the fee out of a fear of what could happen if they don't.

Regardless, the scam seems to have caught on with another company that saw a way to make a fast buck. Florida Record Retrieval, Inc. is doing the same thing and officials in Florida have issued warnings.

Source of Title Blog ::

An exceprt from Sun-Sentinel.com, Don't be fooled by letter offering $60 copy of deed, county officials warn.

Broward and Palm Beach county officials are warning residents not to be fooled by the official-looking letters from Plantation-based Florida Record Retrieval Inc. They say most people never need a certified copy of their deeds, and the documents can be easily and cheaply obtained directly from county records. They fear elderly and other unsuspecting homeowners could be fooled.

An investigation last year by state Attorney General Bill McCollum led the company to agree in writing to follow laws against misleading advertising, contribute $10,000 to a consumer-protection program and pay $25,000 in state legal bills. An investigation in the spring by Broward County's Consumer Affairs Division resulted in further changes to Florida Record's letters.

"This looks like a very legal note that people are getting, and they might think that it's something that they really need," Broward Clerk of Court Howard Forman said. "You shouldn't charge people $60 for something they can get at little cost."

I find this tactic appalling, personally. I'm glad to see at least one state's attorney general taking some action. It would be nice to see investigations across the country into these scams. I can only assume that this has been a profitable venture... otherwise, you would think the cost of the direct mail campaign and the $35,000 expense Florida Record Retrieval paid would be enough to put an end to the practice. But, apparently, they are still going at it.

What do you think? Is this just a creative, legitimate way to earn revenue in a down market? Or, is it just another scam? What would you think if your grandmother paid $70 for a copy of her deed?

Robert A. Franco


Categories: Ethics, Marketing, Public Records

994 words | 6202 views | 10 comments | log in or register to post a comment

Compared to Credit Card companies a...
Compared to Credit Card companies and the Mortgage Loan predators ('called consultants - right).... this Deed offer is just a minor itch.

Do I LIKE it? No.

Do I have a problem with the wording and legality? No.

There's a sucker born every 30 seconds.
by Rob Robinson | 2007/12/06 | log in or register to post a reply

My office has been receiving an inc...
My office has been receiving an increasing amount of calls from homeowners that have been contacted by these pond scum.

This is just one more negative element that needs to be removed from this industry...

by Shane Kane - TitleSucess.com | 2007/12/06 | log in or register to post a reply

Yes, as the saying goes - there is ...
Yes, as the saying goes - there is a sucker born every minute. However, it used to be that the ethically challenged grifter who was eager to take advantage of them was a bit more rare. It seems that these days they are keeping up. Just because there are people out there who are easily scammed, doesn't make it right to rip them off.  
by Robert Franco | 2007/12/07 | log in or register to post a reply

Is there a "U.S. Government Federal...
Is there a "U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center Website"? Is there a "U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center"? I would think the obvious attempt at creating a nexus as a federal entity would be actionable. Perhaps a letter to all county recorders/clerks mandating a hold on any orders for certified copies of deeds from offending companies would be an effective deterrent. Which federal agency would handle enforcement of this type of infraction?  
by Janice | 2007/12/07 | log in or register to post a reply

The Federal Gov't Info Center is ap...
The Federal Gov't Info Center is apparently legitimate: http://pueblo.gsa.gov

I had the same initial reaction as most people in our business when I got one of these in the mail. I then looked through it, found the web site they mentioned, and decided they weren't doing anything fraudulent or criminal in any way.

We may think that people are being ripped off in some sense, but this is an old question. It all comes down to the subjective theory of value. If I've worked for ten years as an antique dealer and stumble across what appears to be a worn Stradivarius at a garage sale for $200, what is its fair value? The seller thinks its worth $200, but the seller doesn't have the years of training I spent.

My grandfather bought a rock in Yugoslavia in the 1950s for $15 from a street vendor whose next most valuable rock was $2. He brought it home, put it in on the mantle and found out from a guest it was worth $500. Would it be worth $500 if he brought it back to Yugoslavia to sell it?

My house was probably only worth half of what I paid for it six years ago, but I needed a house with certain characteristics in a certain location at a certain time. Did I get ripped off because my house might be going down a little in value for the next few years?

These guys are engaging in capitalism. They laid out a lot of money to set their system up. If someone pays for a certified copy of their deed, they must think it is worth their time, effort and money to get their deed and avoid the hassle of figuring out how to do it correctly on their own. The National Deed Service may have even lost some money on this deal.

If the NDS made some money, then other companies might starting doing this, which will create competition and drive the prices for such services down. Then again, most people who own a home probably have enough information to realize that there is probably a cheaper way to get a copy of their deed.

We're in an industry where our service is not to produce anything physical of value. We don't sell cars or food. Our worth to our customers is our knowledge which none of us believe is easy to come by. But we sleep soundly at night because we think we are worth it.

I've had many of my more sophisticated customers complain that title insurance is a rip-off and in a sense they are right. Our premiums are based on the collective liability of all of the transfers we insure. The people who have the low-risk deals pay the same premium as those with high risk deals. A truly fair system would really adjust the premium depending on the risk.

I think we need to be careful about condemning a company who is not engaging in fraud and whose only crime, in our minds, is charging more than they probably should for the service they are selling.
by David Jenkins | 2007/12/10 | log in or register to post a reply

It should be noted that even the Fe...
It should be noted that even the Federal Citizen Information Center has a warning about overpaying for certified copies.

"Your friends at the Federal Citizen Information Center (FCIC) want to warn you about solicitation letters that are being sent out nationwide by a private company regarding buying certified copies of deeds. The letters refer to information found in FCIC’s “Managing Household Records” 2003 online consumer focus article. The company cites that article as a reason for purchasing a certified deed. FCIC wants to make sure that consumers know it is not necessary to use a private company to obtain a certified copy of the deed to your home. You can obtain one from your local Register of Deeds for free or at a low cost."
by Robert Franco | 2007/12/10 | log in or register to post a reply

Yeah, I get the point, and my Sleez...
Yeah, I get the point, and my Sleezeometer did register a bit to the right on this one. But I could have recorded my last home purchase myself, right...stood in line at the recorder's office. Instead, I paid a title company to do it. Convenience was the commodity. I don't see the IRS going on a crusade telling us taxpayers H&R Block is ripping is off, doing something for a fee we could do ourselves.  
by Harvey Homeowner | 2007/12/10 | log in or register to post a reply


Now this is is...

Now this is issue is officially hilarious. The government hires people to come up with brilliant ideas like telling the public they should get certified copies of their deeds. Something which we all know is completely unnecessary to begin with. Then the government hires those same people to send out warnings telling the public not to pay too much for the unnecessary thing that they recommended that public get in the first place.

Your tax dollars as work. Now the homeowner may be getting ripped off two or three times. The first time is by the government who took his money to tell him to get something that he didn't need.

Are there similar warnings on that wonderful government web site about overpaying for Realtor commissions, lawyers, groceries, or 2x4s? How about a warning that Brittney Spears' musical talent may be overrated and no one should pay any more than $5 for her CDs? Does it have any movie recommendations?
by David Jenkins | 2007/12/10 | log in or register to post a reply

A more serious threat than asking t...
A more serious threat than asking the victim - or, customer - to pay $70 for a copy of a deed is that the victim - or, customer - is also asked for credit card information. I would not want these people to have my credit card number and expiration date. 
by Louis Weltzer | 2007/12/10 | log in or register to post a reply

I don't see anything wrong with cha...
I don't see anything wrong with charging a fee to do something that most people are unable/too busy/too lazy to do themselves.

Personally, I think seventy bucks is a little steep, but that's just me.

God bless America!
by Scott Perry | 2007/12/10 | log in or register to post a reply
Source of Title Blog

Robert A. FrancoThe focus of this blog will be on sharing my thoughts and concerns related to the small title agents and abstractors. The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years and I believe that we are just seeing the beginning. As the evolution continues, what will become of the many small independent title professionals who have long been the cornerstone of the industry?

Robert A. Franco



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