If you’ve recently purchased a home, a scam may try to trick you out of more than $80.
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. Laasby discovered the scam after Graig Goldman, a real estate broker with Re/Max Lakeside Realty sent in a copy of a solicitation from a company called Record Transfer Services.
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.
All of which some homeowners may not realize.
“Unfortunately, sitting through a closing is quite baffling if [home buyers have] never done it before,” Goldman said. “They’re preying on people’s ignorance of the home-buyer process.”
As for the other documents, they’re useless. We contacted Record Transfer Services by phone, acting as a homeowner, and spoke with a representative who referred to herself as Sandy. According to Sandy, along with the deed, homeowners will get a “property profile,” which comes with information such as “transfer histories, property lines, county tax amounts, even the number of rooms … basically everything you need to know about your house.” It’s all information that is either not needed, or already known, by a homeowner.
What Record Transfer Services is doing may not be illegal. A copy of the letter we reviewed included this fine-print disclaimer: “This service to obtain a copy of your grant deed or other record of title is not associated with any governmental agency. You can obtain a copy of your grant deed or other record of title from the county recorder in the county where your property is located in, for up to $83.”
The representative we spoke to told us if we included a memo to her with our personal check she’d “personally make sure we deposit the check.”
Courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Laasby reported that the scammers operate under multiple business names, including Property Transfer Services, Record Transfer Services, Conveyance Transfer Services, Record Retrieval Department and National Deed Service.
They also operate with different phone numbers. After reviewing a solicitation from Florida, we called the phone number provided and reached a recording from “Deed Processing” stating that we would receive our documents in seven to 21 days after payment or we could leave a message with our name, address and phone number to receive a call back from a representative.
The scammers also have a wide net. We found references to this deed scam in Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and New York. Homeowners in other states may have received solicitations, but not reported them simply because they didn’t know there was anything to report.
So far it isn’t clear how the scammers are getting homeowners’ information, but property sales and ownership is a matter of public record. Anyone can visit a county office and compile a list of recent homeowners.
Generally, if you receive a solicitation asking for more money after your closing, it isn’t legitimate. But if you aren’t sure or want more information, contact your county clerk’s office or your real estate agent.
And if you need a copy of your deed for any reason, visit your county clerk in person or online. Copies shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars.
Distinctive Properties, Inc. helping you buy or sell your home in Pasco, Richland, Kennewick and the surrounding Tri Cities area.