2009-06-19 / Columnists

Spotlight On Elderlaw

Don't Fall for the 'Certified Copy of Your Deed' Swindle
Commentary By Nancy J. Brady, RN, Esq. And Linda Faith Marshak, Esq.

Would you pay $80 or more for something you could get for as little as $1 and probably don't need at all? A company called National Deed Service is hoping to persuade homeowners to part with the extra cash to purchase a "certified copy" of the deed to their home. Officials in many states are warning homeowners not to fall for the company's deceptive, but apparently legal, pitch.

For the last three years, the Northbrook, Illinois-based National Deed Service has been sending direct-mail solicitations to homeowners in different parts of the country alleging that the U.S. Federal Citizen Information Center (FCIC) recommends that property owners have an official or certified copy of their deed and offering to deliver such a copy within 30 days for $59.50, or higher depending on where the homeowner lives. The Service's Web site further warns that "It is not an easy process to obtain public records from a governmental agency."

Just the opposite is in fact, true, especially in New York. Obtaining a deed is usually quite simple, inexpensive, and probably unnecessary for most people. A deed is a public record and is available from the Register of Deeds at most county courthouses for as little as $1, or even for free in some locales. Some counties also allow homeowners to view and print their deeds from a Web site. Most homeowners receive a copy of their deed at closing, but even if they don't have one, there is little necessity to pay a hefty sum for a "certified copy" when a copy is always available when and if a homeowner needs it.

As for National Deed Service's claim that the government suggests that homeowners keep a certified copy of their deed, the FCIC Web site actually simply suggests that if you have a safe deposit box, it should contain certified or official copies of documents.

"I don't know how the deed companies thought they could stretch our statement that 'if you have your deed, you should keep it someplace safe (like a safe deposit box)' into 'you definitely need to have a copy of your deed in your possession,'" Rebecca Fulcher, a consumer information specialist with the FCIC, told the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, Arkansas. According to Fulcher, most homeowners don't need to have a copy of their deed.

The Recorder's Office in Allen County, Indiana was recently flooded with calls from homeowners asking about a solicitation they'd just received from National Deed Services. "We've pursued this issue with the Indiana Attorney General on several occasions and the problem turns out to be that there are enough disclaimers in this letter to keep it within the law, but it sure is close and it sure does spook a lot of people who don't read it all the way," said Allen County's Recorder, John McGauly, on WANE TV in Fort Wayne.

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