If your clients receive an official-looking letter instructing them to send in money for a copy of their grant deed, you might tell them to read it carefully.
A company called Record Transfer Services has been mailing the letters to homeowners all over the country. Formatted to look like an official bill, with the words “Deed processing notice” printed in huge type at the top, the letter asks homeowners to send in $83 in return for a copy of their deed.
There’s only one problem. Record Transfer Services is a private company offering to charge homeowners 83 bucks to do what they could do themselves for next to nothing. In most areas of the country, a homeowner can get a copy of his deed from the county recorder’s office for a fraction of the company’s price.
While the letter does state that it is a solicitation and the recipient is under no obligation to pay, it doesn’t get around to stating that until the last two sentences at the bottom of the page. It also carries warnings that the company isn’t affiliated with the government – but those warnings are buried in blocks of text.
The rest of the letter is formatted to look like an official bill. It includes the date the recipient’s home was purchased, the purchase price, lot number and other official information – all of which is public record available to anyone who takes the time to look it up. It also features a “compliance response date” in bold letters, which some recipients could assume is a due date for payment.
Even the envelope looks official. Capital letters tell homeowners to “OPEN IMMEDIATELY -- IMPORTANT INFORMATION ENCLOSED.” To the right of the address window is another chilling message: “Warning: $2,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment, or both for any person interfering or obstructing with delivery of this letter.”
Questionable grammar aside, that warning is valid. But it’s also valid for letters from your sweetheart, the care package Aunt Linda sent you last month, or the postcard Uncle Jim mailed from the world-famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. The U.S. postal code specifies that penalty for interfering with the delivery of “any letter, postal card, or package.”
The scam is nationwide; letters have been sent to homeowners from Florida to Montana to Arizona. County recorders and other government officials in those places have been quick to issue warnings about the company.
"You do not have to pay exorbitant fees for a copy of your deed," Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said in a statement about the scam. "When you purchase a home, your title company should process the deed so there is no need to pay a secondary agency for what you probably have already or can obtain yourself from your Town Clerk's office for a few dollars. These solicitations do not come from a governmental agency; they are private companies trying to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners."